18 top PSUs to be put on the block
Sensex sheds 144 pts, rupee ends weaker
SWC meet cancelled
Stiff penalties for cyber vandals
Industry grows at 8% in last fiscal
Bidders fail to obtain okay for BOC takeover
Direct sale boost for tea traders
Foreign Exchange, Bullion, Stock Indices

New Delhi, May 12 
The government plans to put some 18 companies on the bidding block this financial year including its entire stake 50.1 per cent in Maruti Udyog Ltd, some 51 per cent holding in Bharat Aluminium (Balco) and Vizag Steel, 27 per cent in Videsh Sanchar Nigam and 100 per cent in Jessop & Co.

The selloff of the prime jewels in the government’s treasury is expected to raise between Rs 9,500 crore and 13,500 crore.

The core group of secretaries, which meet here today to dicuss the list and determine how best to make the selloff more palatable to the tens of thousands of workers who will be affected by it . The sale list and the brainstorming report will then be placed before the Union cabinet.

“We have several proposals on how to sweeten the bitter pill. Besides, the attractive separation package already passed by the cabinet, we are thinking of doling out free sweat equity to workers before privatisation. We also intend to reserve a portion of the equity to be put on sale for the employees at a discounted price,” a top finance ministry official said.

Besides Maruti, the government expects the real big ticket sale to be the 27 per cent stake in VSNL from which it hopes to garner about Rs 1,500-3,500 crore. The other titans on the block include HPCL from which the government expects to raise about Rs 1,200 crore and Rashtriya Ispat Nigam Ltd (popularly known as Vizag Steel) from which it hopes to get about Rs 1,000-1,200 crore.

The government, however, expects a paltry Rs 100 crore from the sale of its 51 per cent stake in its the state-owned Indian Airlines.

Out of the 51 per cent government holding, 26 per cent will be offered to a strategic buyer and the rest to employees, financial institutions and small shareholders. More than the money, officials argue that the IA sale has become expedient because it will rope in a strategic partner who will be expected to bring in funds that are sorely needed for fleet modernisation and expansion.

Others companies on the list are IBP where the government wants to sell 34 per cent and Indian Petrochemcial Ltd (IPCL) where some 25 per cent is to be offloaded, Shipping Corporation of India where the government hopes to raise Rs 600 crore by divesting its 40 per cent stake, and State Trading Corporation (STC) where the government hopes to earn Rs 450 crore by selling the company lock, stock and barrel. “Even if do not manage to garner the entire amount we are targeting, we will surely do far better than the last fiscal when we got just Rs 2,600 crore,” officials said.

The sale list has come out just a day after the employees in most public sector units went on a day’s strike to protest against the government’s policy of disinvestment among other things. The big question now is whether the grand selloff plan will clear the many political hurdles that it is sure to face.    

Mumbai, May 12 
It was another day of convulsions on the stock and forex markets. While the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE) sensex hit a 11-month trough, and its lowest this year, by closing 144 points lower at 4107.14, the rupee lost more ground to the dollar by ending the day at 43.92/93 in a 5 paise loss over its previous finish.

On Dalal Street, most big names were clobbered. This included Zee Telefilms, Mahindra & Mahindra and ICICI, which lost the maximum it could when it hit the 12 per cent lower end circuit filter.

Other sensex stocks which took it on their chin included Telco, Bhel, ACC, Ranbaxy, Infosys, BSES, NIIT, Grasim, Gujarat Ambuja and Hindustan Lever. In all, 27, of the 30 scrips in the sensex saw losses — something that best explains the slide.

Infotech bellwethers were beaten with leaders like Wipro shedding almost 9 percent. Other losers in this sector were HCL, Infosys, Tata Elxsi, HCL technologies, Silverline, Mastek and Aftek.

The selloff did not even spare telecom stocks such as VSNL, MTNL, Krone, Shyam and HFCL, all of which saw steep losses.

Bucking the slump was index heavweight ITC, which shot up 4 percent, followed by Hindalco, Nestle, Bombay Dyeing, Vakrangee, Vans Information, Madras Cements and Pfizer.

Mirroring the fall on the BSE, the NSE Nifty closed at 1281.35 points, down 23.20 points or 1.8 per cent.

The selloff occurred in spite of Thursday’s impressive rally in the Nasdaq Composite Index and the Dow Jones Industrial Average.

In the forex market, the rupee closed 5 paise lower at 43.92/93 against the dollar in spite of periodic interventions by SBI — believed to be acting under the instructions of the RBI.

Forex analysts say but for SBI’s rescue, the rupee would have breached the 44-mark yet again. Pplayers say a weak rupee could slip further in the next few days.    

Calcutta, May 12 
In an unprecedented development, Shaw Wallace and Company was forced to cancel the extra-ordinary general meeting today as the chair-person appointed by the Calcutta high court failed to turn up. The meeting was called to approve the merger of six group companies. The board sponsored resolution was duly circulated to the company’s shareholders and a fair number gathered at the Science City auditorium around 12 noon. SWC executive director P.L. Narsimhan was also present.

However, seeing no sign of advocate Ketaki Ganguli, who was appointed by the court to chair the meeting, Narasimhan and other shareholders waited for about 15 minutes and then dispersed.

A company spokesperson said SWC would soon report the matter to the Calcutta high court and go by its directive. Tarun Aich of solicitor firm Mukherjee Biswas that prepared the amalgamation scheme said “We have to go through the formalities all over again.”    

New Delhi, May 12 
Hopes that the country will do something to tame rampaging computer nerds brightened today when a Parliamentary standing committee studying the Information Technology Bill 1999 suggested tough laws and harsher punishments to prevent hackers from pulverising computer systems and damaging the invaluable resources stored in them. As the first step, it has recommended stringent penalties for hackers and has asked cybercafes to maintain a record of the people using their computers and the sites they visit.

It says infotech service providers need not have their licences renewed automatically after five years as proposed in the IT Bill. For this, it has suggested the deletion of Clause 23 in the Bill which lays down the conditions under which licences are to be renewed.

It has been suggested that the penalty for damaging — deleting altering adding, modifying or rearranging computer resources — computer systems should be increased to Rs 1 crore from the Rs 10 lakh proposed in the IT Bill 1999.

A new clause to define hacking and punish severely the hackers and cyber squatters has been proposed. This is how a hacker has been defined in a new clause, 65-A: “Whoever with an intent to cause, or knowing that he is likely to cause, wrongful loss or damage to the public or any person, destroys or deletes or alters any information residing in a computer resource, diminishes its value or utility, or damages it by any means possible, commits hacking.”

Sub-clause to 65-A (2) lays down the penalty: “Whoever commits hacking shall be punished with an imprisonment of three years, or with a fine which may extend up to Rs 2 lakh, or both.”

In addition, the penalty for publishing obscene matter in electronic form has been made stiffer by adding a new clause. The suggestion is that a minimum imprisonment of five years, as against two years in the Bill, and fine of Rs 1 lakh as against Rs 25,000 should be imposed on offenders.

In case of second or subsequent offences of the same nature, the committee has proposed that the period of imprisonment should be 10 years as against five years in the IT Bill, and the fine should be Rs 2 lakh, up from the Rs 50,000. Sub-sections in clause 73 of the IT Bill have been added which make it mandatory for cybercafes to furnish records of its subscribers to the police if an offence is committed from their outlet.

“Every person in charge of a cybercafe shall maintain such details about the person and the internet sites accessed by him, as may be prescribed by the state government,” sub section (1) of clause 73B states.

The corollary to the above clause, sub section (2) of clause 73B, specifies the penalty: “A person who fails to comply with the provisions of sub-section (1) shall be guilty of an offence and shall be liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding a year or a fine not exceeding Rs 5 lakh, or both.”

In order to curb crimes committed through Net telephony, the committee has also suggested that the word ‘sound’ in sub section (U) of clause 2 of the IT Bill should be replaced with ‘voice’.

A fine of Rs 10,000 or an imprisonment has been proposed for those who fail to surrender their licences even after these have been suspended or cancelled by the certifying authority.    

New Delhi, May 12 
Industrial production during the last financial year (1999-2000) recorded an impressive growth of 8 per cent compared with 3.9 per cent in the previous year.

The spurt was led by the manufacturing sector which recorded a robust growth of 9 per cent during April-March 1999-2000 compared with a meagre 4.3 per cent in the same period last year, according to the quick estimates of Index of Industrial Production (IIP) released by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) today.

The manufacturing sector, which accounts for nearly four-fifths of the total weight of index of industrial production, grew by a whopping 9.6 per cent in March this year as against 5.4 per cent in the same month last year.

Mining and electricity grew at 2.2 per cent and 5.6 per cent respectively during this month.

Cumulative growth during April-March 1999-2000 over the corresponding period of 1998-99 in the three sectors (mining, manufacturing and electricity) have been 0.6 per cent, 9.0 per cent and 6.6 per cent respectively.

In comparison, electricity grew at 6.5 per cent in 1998-99 and mining sector registered a negative growth of 1.7 per cent during the same period.

Among the use-based category, the recovery was led by consumer durables and intermediate goods.

Consumer durables posted a growth rate of 12.2 per cent during the last financial year as against 4.7 per cent in 1998-99. During March the sector grew at 6.7 per cent.    

Calcutta, May 12 
The joint takeover bid by Air Liquide of France and Air Products of the US for the BOC Group plc fell apart with the bidders failing to obtain the approval from the US Federal Trade Commission within the 10-month deadline that ended today.

The Franco-US bid for BOC was made last July with the two principals—Air Liquide Air Products—announcing their intention to divide up BOC’s assets and businesses.

“The pre-conditional offer from Air Products and Air Liquide will lapse today. It had now become clear that no US FTC approval will be received by the date, to which the offer had been extended,” a BOC press release said.

Air Products and Air Liquide are said to have stated that they do not intend to waive the preconditions nor seek an extension to the offer.

In January, the European Commission had authorised the acquisition after conducting an investigation into the impact of the takeover of a part of BOC by Air Liquide.

The takeover would have given the French company a dominance in the European market for high volume supplies of oxygen and nitrogen to industrial users, helium and speciality gases used in the electronics industry.

“Our destiny is now back in our own hands and I thank you all for your contribution to BOC over these recent months. We have continued to improve our performance and we can now concentrate on developing our position as one of the leading industrial gas companies,” BOC chief executive Tony Isaac said to the employees.

Raman Pandya, managing director BOC India, said business for the Indian outfit would continue as usual.

“During this period, BOC(I) has been able to trim itself down and focus on topline growth. BOC(I) has also segmented itself into various value added divisions that are focused on different consumer segments,” he added.    

Calcutta, May 12 
Troubles at the North Indian tea auctions in Calcutta, Siliguri and Guwahati, which have virtually come to a halt after producers upset at the Tea Board’s new sampling norms chose to keep away, have deepened with the withdrawal of massive amounts from the city auction.

Last week’s auction was a muted affair while this week’s was not held at all because buyers stayed away. Although the dates for next week’s auction have been announced, brokers say they do not expect things to be normal.

To keep the wheels of trade moving, a worried Calcutta Tea Traders Association (CTTA) has requested the Tea Board to allow sellers to withdraw their output from the auctions so that it can be sold directly.

The board had issued a notice which said sellers could withdraw from the auctions till 3 pm on May 10. According to recent reports, around 22 per cent of the tea consignments on offer have been recalled, much of it being Darjeeling and orthodox varieties.

Meanwhile, the stoppage has led to a pile-up at the auction centres. Unsold stocks are estimated at 2.5 million kgs (sale 19 and 20) in Calcutta, 4 million kgs in Guwahati and an equal amount in Siliguri.

The auctions were crippled after the Tea Board’s new norms, announced on April 24, set minimum purchase limits that would qualify buyers to get free trade samples.

It also fixed sizes of samples and the division of lots. The new rules were based on recommendations made by the Indian Institute of Management to revamp the auction system.

At present, brokers get free samples of tea, which enables them to pick the tea of their choice. Producers have long been complaining that buyers often misuse the samples.

According to the new rules, buyers will have to purchase more in order to qualify for free samples.

The sample size has also been reduced from 30 gms to 25 gms for CTC and dust varieties, 60 gms to 50 gms for medium-sized teas and from 90 gms to 75 gms for large-sized leaves. Further, the Tea Board has said a buyer has to purchase a minimum 10 packages of tea from a lot. Only then, can a lot can be divided. Earlier, a buyers could purchase only 5 packages of tea.

A senior CTTA official said the disruption at the auctions has affected cash flows of all tea companies.

“The small producers are the worst hit by the stoppage. We have requested the Tea Board to take some immediate steps to restore the auctions. In the meantime, we have also asked buyers to operate normally at the auctions next week. Sale 19, which did not take place this week will be held on Monday while sale number 20 will take place on Tuesday,” the official said.

Tea Board chairman S.S. Ahuja held several rounds of discussion with brokers and producers but failed to arrive at a mutually acceptable solution.

“The Tea Board chairman has said the board will decide what can be done about the new norms. In the meantime, auctions should continue,” the CTTA official said.    

Foreign Exchange
US $1	Rs 43.93	HK $1	Rs 5.55*
UK £1	Rs 66.52	SW Fr 1	Rs 25.05*
Euro	Rs 39.76	Sing $1	Rs 25.05*
Yen 100	Rs 40.54	Aus $1	Rs 25.15*
*SBI TC buying rates; others are forex market closing rates


Calcutta		Bombay
Gold Std (10gm)	Rs 4450	Gold Std (10 gm)	Rs 4380
Gold 22 carat	Rs 4200	Gold 22 carat	Rs 4050
Silver bar (Kg)	Rs 7850	Silver (Kg)	Rs 7880
Silver portion	Rs 7900	Silver portion	Rs 7855

Stock Indices

Sensex	4107.14	-144.22
BSE-100	2067.78	-88.55
S&P CNX Nifty	1282.80	-21.75
Calcutta	112.73	-3.88
Skindia GDR	NA	NA

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