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Monday, November 26, 2001

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A touch of class

N. K. Kurup

AN INVITATION last week from the shipowners association for a classical dance show was quite unexpected and surprising. Unexpected because the Indian National Shipowners Association never hosted something like that in the last 20 years. And surprising because classical dance is not the shipowners' cup of tea.

The invite card merely said "a classical dance by Ms Rasika". As only connoisseurs are familiar with the names of classical dance artistes, the name did not ring a bell. Normally, shipowners celebrate occasions such as National or World Maritime Day. Neither falls on November 22, the day the show was held.

The shipowners are a different lot -- a lot love to live in style and are fun-loving. Even when shipping is down in the dump, they are in high spirits. Yes, shipowners are known by their `class', but hardly by their `classical' tastes.

Yet, the cream of the city's shipping fraternity turned up for the classical evening. The guest of honour, Mr Vedprakash Goyal, Union Shipping Minister, stayed till the end. Officials of BPT, JNPT, Shipping Corporation of India, DG Shipping, and the nautical advisor to the Government, all were there surrounding the Minister. Among the unexpected VIPs were the Reserve Bank of India Deputy Governor Dr Y. V. Reddy, and HDFC Chairman, Mr Deepak Parekh.

A shipping company official, who came in late, was heard enquiring the whereabouts of Mr Rakesh Mohan, advisor to the Finance Minister.

"No, he is out of the country, attending an IMF meeting," came the reply.

"How come? I was told, he was very keen on attending this programme," said the former.

Incidentally, Mr Rakesh Mohan is heading the government panel on Tonnage Tax. Indian shipping companies have been seeking the introduction of tonnage tax in lieu of corporate tax. Shipowners feel tonnage tax, a levy based on the fleet capacity of the company, is more rational and fair than the corporate tax based on income and profit.

Mr Rakesh Mohan, is now a friend of shipowners. In the past, he has helped them resolve the issue of five per cent duty on the import of ships. He convinced the Directorate General of Foreign Trade to act in the shipowners' favour.

The show went on well. Complementing the artiste, Ms Rasika, for her excellent performance was Mr P. K. Srivastava, the SCI Chairman. He told her she "expressed her theme better than we did in our (shipowners) presentation to the Minister earlier in the day." (Ms Rasika is, indeed an accomplished artiste. Even a lay person could follow and enjoy the programme).

The shipowners presentation to the Minister was to make a case on how important shipping was to a maritime nation such as India. "It was the old wine in a new, well-packed bottle. What made it appealing and different was the way it was presented," commented someone who attended the presentation.

Mr Goyal, supposedly close to the Prime Minister, appears keen to do his bit to prop up the industry. "I am trying to understand the issues and I will take them up with the Government," Mr Goyal said after the programme.

Shipping, as the transport service of 95 per cent of India's international trade, deserves a better place in the Government's list of priority. Large investments have been made in developing ports along the Indian coast. This infrastructure is part of the nation's wealth. "How can we allow foreign ships to come here and cash in on these facilities?" went one spirited conversation.

After the programme, the artiste was introduced to the Minister, his wife and other dignitaries. Later, during the cocktail party, it was a pleasant surprise to hear someone saying Ms Rasika is the better half of Mr Rakesh Mohan.

The report on Tonnage Tax is expected to be ready within a month.

 
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