Monday, June 12, 2000,
Chandigarh, India


M A I N   N E W S

Vessel hijackers seek asylum 

AHMEDABAD, June 11 (PTI) — Stowaways of the Italian cargo vessel ‘MV Medstar’ which was to anchor at Kandla, today sought political asylum in a European nation even as the Protection and Idemnity Club (PIC) of shippers assumed the role of intermediary to end the hijack drama.

The PIC established contact over phone with the 14 hijackers, mostly Iranians and Iraqis, of the 15,000 tonne vessel and forwarded their demand for asylum to the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Kutch district Police Superintendent A.K. Singh said today.

The hijacked ship was being brought to the Porbandar coast by the Indian Coast Guard for further investigation and checking. The stowaways claimed that they had not hijacked the vessel, they did not possess arms and explosives and would not harm the 13-member crew if granted asylum in an European country.

The PIC, which looks after insurance and other concerns of the shippers and is headquartered in a western country, got involved in the matter after Medstar’s Master G Bartolomei made a request for its intervention to end the hostage drama.

Mr A.K. Singh said the hijack was “at present not our concern but nonetheless we are on alert” since the vessel had not entered Indian territory and was anchored about 600 km from Kandla, nearer to Pakistan.

“Once the issue is resolved by the UNHCR, which has been approached for resolution, and the control is restored to the hostage-taken master, we may allow the cargo vessel to dock at Kandla port”, Mr A.K. Singh said.

Two Indian Coast Guard ships were maintaining a vigil on the hijacked ship. The Gujarat police have also despatched a state reserve police company to Kandla to meet any eventuality.

The stowaways had clandestinely entered the vessel at the Iranian port of Bandar-e-Abbas on June 8 before it began its journey for Kandla port on way to some other destination in Europe, laden with marble and granite stones, the police said.

Vessel’s Master G Bartolomei had informed the ship’s Italian owner about the hijacking last evening saying that its control had been taken over by some armed intruders who wanted to go to some European country to seek political asylum.

On receiving the information, the ship’s agents at Gandhidham brought the incident to the notice of the Indian authorities who immediately began taking preventive measures in case the vessel arrived at any of the Indian ports on Gujarat coast including Kandla port, where initially it was to make a brief stopover.

NEW DELHI (UNI): Two offshore patrol vehicles Veera and Vigraha, have been patrolling the Indian maritime boundaries since the India-bound ship was hijacked. Aerial vigil is also being maintained with two sorties being carried out today.

“We are on the alert and will not allow the ship to enter Indian territorial waters, Coast Guard sources said here today.

“We have a plan of action ready to tackle the situation, the sources said refusing to divulge the details.

The ship MV Medstar, which left Bandar Abbas in Iran on Thursday was to reach Kandla port around 11 a.m. today to load granite. Of the 14 stowaways, 10 are Iranians and rest Iraqis.

The stowaways were in radio contact with the owners of the ship in Italy and their agents in Kandla. They are also believed to be negotiating with a maritime institute in Britain.

It is learnt that negotiations are on for some monetary settlement.

According to latest information, the ship was 270 nautical miles from Okha on the Gujarat coast.

The ship is charting a zig-zag course and its destination is still not clear.

“Piracy on the high seas is a crime and we will deal with the situation accordingly, a senior Coast Guard official said on condition of anonymity.

Initially it was learnt that the hijackers did not want the ship to proceed to India and wanted a guarantee of amnesty.Back

Phone bonanza at “subscribers’ cost”
By Prabhjot Singh
Tribune News Service

CHANDIGARH, June 11 — The "free-telephone bonanza" package for the serving employees of the Department of Telecom (DoT) and the Department of Telecom Services (DTS) will be at the cost of subscribers.

"Anything that costs money and is given free, then somebody has to pay for it. By awarding this 'free-telephone bonanza', DoT appears to be concerned more about the benefit of Telecom employees than the subscribers," says Justice S.S. Sodhi, former Chairman of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI).

"I cannot understand how the Minister says the cost of this package for the employees will be Rs 68 crore a year only. DoT says it is about Rs 100 crore a year. Under this package, they are to give 3.5 lakh telephone connections.

"The TRAI in its order of March 9, 1999, had taken the cost of Direct Exchange Line (DEL) to be Rs 38,000 against Rs 43,000 projected by the Department of Telecom. This cost has now come down to Rs 25,000 per DEL.

"The one-time expenditure on grant of these 3.5 lakh connections at the rate of Rs 25,000 each comes to about Rs 800 crore. Then the losses have to be rewritten for rent and cost of free telephone calls. These will cost another Rs 300 to Rs 400 crore. The Minister has happily given this largesse to employees," Justice Sodhi said raising queries as to who will pay for this "bonanza".

Another issue raised by Justice Sodhi is about grant of priority. "Who will get telephone connections on priority, the subscribers already on the waiting list or the 3.5 lakh employees to benefit from this 'bonanza' ?" The answer can be guessed. Perhaps people or subscribers will have to wait longer to get their new connections released.

The third important aspect about which Justice Sodhi talks is about reduction in tariff. The TRAI had in its March 9, 1999, order proposed 50 per cent reduction in tariff over a period of three years with 20 to 25 per cent reduction in the first year and 12.5 per cent each in the second and third year.

DoT held back the reduction in tariff saying it suffered a revenue loss of Rs 2,000 crore and if any further reduction in tariff is introduced, the revenue loss would grow further.

"Before we left the TRAI, we wrote as many as five letters to DoT asking them to tell us the basis on which they are saying that they were going to lose Rs 2,000 crore in revenue. But they never gave us any figures. Let us assume that it is a fact that DoT has suffered a loss of revenue of Rs 2,000 crore. But where has this money gone? Probably it has remained with the subscribers. Is it what the DoT is grudging ? What about Rs 1200 crore largesse to its employees ? DoT is resentful of reducing the tariff by 12.5 per cent for the benefit of subscribers.

"Further, it is a well known and accepted economic principle that when you make something available at cheaper rates, the volume of its utilisation will increase leading to increased revenue generation.

Other equally important factor is that the TRAI had wanted to bring in the Calling party pay regime in cellular phones. It was proposed to be introduced from August 1 last year. But at the instance of the Department of Telecom, the implementation date was changed to November 1,1999. On October 28, the TRAI order was challenged in the Delhi High Court. The main grievance being that the DoT and MTNL would lose about Rs 200 crore a year because of this order. Even if we assume it was correct, Rs 200 crore in the context of revenue surplus is insignificant for DoT. In a way, they blocked an explosion in the subscribers bill for cellular phones.

Justice Sodhi maintains that it is apparent that for DoT revenue and benefit to employees are more important than subscribers.

When the TRAI worked out details, it realised that 13 per cent of the subscribers of total telephones in the country are responsible for 70 per cent revenue. Interestingly, only 22.7 per cent subscribers, who make 10,000 or more calls account for 46 per cent of the total revenue while 34.1 per cent subscribers, who make 500 or less calls contribute only 7 per cent of the total revenue to DoT.

Wherever the private operators have come, the DoT or MTNL has started panicking because of its service. It is the competition which has forced both VSNL and MTNL to slash down internet rates drastically.

"If they have been the leaders or pioneers of internet in the country, why did they not think of subscribers or consumers in the first place and why they are worried now. Probably their motive has been revenue from general public and not service to subscribers. It is the competition which is driving them to initiate the price war," Justice Sodhi added.


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