Big Bill on hard-sell mission
Knots remain in telecom watchdog Act
Star beams rejig signal, public offer soon
Murdoch picks up 12 per cent in UTV
Navneet to expand
Toyota plans to invest another $ 60 million
Stiff penalties for power theft proposed

New Delhi, March 17 
Bill Clinton, CEO, The Great US Shopping Mall Inc. That would perhaps be a better calling card for the US president when he starts his visit to India on Sunday.

Aside from all the jaw-jawing over Kashmir, Tibet and global security, Big Bill will be here to hardsell US-made planes, radars and telecom equipment and also lobby the Indian government to raise the limit on foreign equity in insurance companies from the present level of 26 per cent.

The US government has already been busy pitching for the Seattle-based Boeing Corporation’s behalf to try and bag the $1.5 billion Indian Airlines’ plane replacement order.

The Americans, who will renew their pitch at the highest level when Clinton meets Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee , are expected to argue that the last few large plane orders from India went to the European aircraft consortium — Airbus Industrie — and this time round it would only be fair if Boeing got a chance.

Merit apart, most mega-aircraft and defence purchase orders have a subtle underlying political message. Whenever India’s relations with the US have soured or when US relations with Pakistan have improved, aviation and defence orders have gone to either Britain or France.

The US argument is that with rapprochement as the theme of the visit, things should now swing their way.

Indian Airlines wants to buy about 30 planes to replace 11 ageing Airbus 300s and a dozen aged Boeing 737-200s over a five-year time span. While Boeing is offering B737-900s against Airbus’s A320 and A321s to replace the 250-seater Airbus 300 planes, Boeing 737-600s, Boeing 717s and Airbus 319s are in the running to replace the twelve Boeing 737-200s.

Initially, IA wants to buy eight to ten planes with options to buy more to partly replace the six 118-seat Boeings 737 and eight 245 seat Airbus 300s which will become older than 20 years this very year.

The US side will also be pushing to sell Raytheon radar systems for both civilian and defence use. The Indian civil aviation authorities are looking to upgrade their existing Raytheon category II radar system installed at the Delhi and Mumbai airports to category 3b and buy radars for other major airports. Although India’s experience with Raytheon radars has not been too good, the US-based corporation is a leader in the race to win the contract.

Raytheon is also bidding to sell eight ANTBQ-37 weapon locating radar sets which will be used to locate hidden artillery guns and missile systems even at a distance. Although the order is a small one worth just Rs 350 crore, it could be followed up by repeat orders.

Besides whoever manages to gain a foothold with this sale would be advantageously placed to sell personnel locating radars (PLRs) which the army wants to buy. Commonly used in areas like Israel, these PLRs will be used to detect those trying to cross the borders clandestinely. Sources said the size of this contract could run into several thousand crore rupees.

Junior US officials will also involve themselves in lobbying for US firms like Lucent and Motorola which are trying to bag government telecom orders like supplying MTNL with mobile phone systems.

But perhaps the biggest piece of lobbying which the US official team will indulge in will be in favour of the of US insurance majors trying to set up base here. The US side is adamant that the Indian government should allow a hike in the foreign stake in Indian insurance companies.

The US government knows that this is an issue which has the possibility of tearing the ruling coalition apart. But it nevertheless wants to use the high-level visit to extract some kind of a concession.

The US insurers have made it clear in private statements that they would be pitching to get the cap raised to 50 per cent. US commerce secretary William Daley has told the American Council of Life Insurers at a function held in Washington recently that the US would like to see the foreign equity cap in Indian insurance companies raised.    

New Delhi, March 17 
The separation of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India’s (Trai) roles of being a regulator and an arbiter of disputes through the Trai (Amendment) Act 2000 is unlikely to reduce the scope for litigation — the key objective behind the effort to revamp the regulator and to accelerate the development of the telecom sector.

The amendments made in the Trai Act empower the appellate dispute tribunal to settle disputes between the licensor and licensees on the one hand, and between operators on the other. The tribunal’s order can be challenged only in the Supreme Court.

However, legal experts say its judgment can be challenged in the high court. They cite a recent Supreme Court judgment which says all orders passed by appellate tribunals—except in sensitive cases relating to TADA — can be contested in the high court. “The Supreme Court has already made it clear that the High Court has powers of superintendence over orders passed by any tribunal,” a legal expert said.

Sources in the Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and Association of Basic Telecom Operators (ABTO) said the purpose of having a dispute settlement body will be defeated if the cases are taken back to the high court.

“To have a dispute settlement body was one of our demands. But, if the cases are to be referred back to the high court, as has been suggested by many legal experts, the situation will remain the same. The government’s intention was to avoid litigation, reduce the time spent on legal battles and concentrate on the development of telecommunications. The recent order will have to be examined by our legal experts,” sources in Cellular Operators’ Association of India (COAI) and Association of Basic Telecom Operators (ABTO) said.

Congress leader Kapil Sibal had picked the lacunae during a Rajya Sabha discussion on the Trai (amendment) Bill and told communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan that the Supreme Court verdict would make the changes proposed by the government redundant. “

While the government’s intention is to reduce the time for settling disputes, the amendment will not be able to achieve its objective as result of the Supreme Court order. Therefore, only minimum changes are necessary in the Trai Act,” Sibal had said.

The Trai (amendment) Bill followed an Ordinance promulgated early this year for reconstituting the telecom regulator into a dispute settlement and appellate tribunal.

The Ordinance allowed the government to separate the regulator’s recommendatory and advisory functions by rework Section 11 (I) of the Trai Act. The amendment transfers all disputes pending before the watchdog to the new appellate tribunal.    

New Delhi, March 17 
Star headquarters, the four-storey white building which houses News Television India’s operations, is witnessing a surge of activity.

Says Peter Mukherjea, CEO, News Television India, “We are busy charting out a road map for ourselves and putting a few milestones on it.”

Some of the milestones on that map include plansfor an initial public offering (IPO), restructuring, channel launches and setting up a centralised content creation hub.

One of the major milestones would be the IPO. Mukherjea is not prepared to set any time-frame for the issue, but hopes that it “will be sooner than later.”

He added that the process of restructuring was on, refusing to comment any further. However, industry sources say that the IPO announcement is expected in a few months’ time. A humongous company, in which some of News Corp’s operations in other countries like BskyB in the UK will also merge, will be offering the shares on a global scale.

Mukherjea emphasised that Star is a strong and popular brand in India. Using that brand equity, News Television India “is ready to leapfrog into the internet arena both in terms of content and the latest technology services like WAP and G3 and so on.”

Some partnership prospects are being explored but Star plans to undertake most of the ventures on its own. News Television India will also undertake major distribution and marketing exercises.

Meanwhile, it has targeted January 2001 for launching its health and fitness channel.

While some of the content will come from international sources, local content on health-related matters will be simultaneously developed.

Programmes on issues unique to India like yoga, homeopathy and alternative medicine, the latter especially being its forte, will be locally made.

Fox Kids’ programmes which have recently gone on air over Star World and Star Plus may be developed into a separate channel for children.

However, the milestone that News Television India seeks to reach as quickly possible is the “centralised content creation hub for both information technology and broadcast.”    

Mumbai, March 17 
Rupert Murdoch’s STAR and News Corporation is lifting a 12 per cent stake in United Television (UTV) for an undisclose