Reliance prepares to break ICE
Twin steps to get public sector banks into shape
123india to dilute 10% equity
ONGC Videsh keen on Russian oilfields
BoB insurance advisor soon
Powergen, Jet Air foreign funding plan cleared
IA, Jet start another dogfight
Foreign Exchange, Bullion, Stock Indices

Mumbai, June 13 
Reliance Industries, one of the most dynamic wealth machines that has straddled India’s industrial landscape in recent years, is gearing up to launch itself into the world of high technology by drawing up a blueprint which sees the ICE sector as the best bet for future growth.

On the table are plans to pump in big money in infocom, unprecedented amounts that would even eclipse its Rs 14,250 crore investment in the Jamnagar Refinery — one of the biggest private sector initiatives that has given India more diesel than it needs.

“Our strategy is to roll out a world-class, optic-fibre broadband network which will cover the top 115 cities in India which account for more than 50 per cent of the GDP,” Reliance chairman Dhirubhai Ambani told shareholders at the company’s 26th annual general meeting held here today. Flanked by sons Mukesh and Anil, Ambani outlined just how his company plans to make the best of future while delivering staccato answers to shareholders who were as impatient about bonuses as they were about piling debts.

Investments in the ICE sector, Ambani said, will be made over the next two years. At the same time, talks to forge alliances with global leaders in the digital world were under way.

“We are in an advanced stage of discussions with leading global companies in new-economy firms across the entire digital chain. We will endeavour to attain market leadership in integrated broadband services which deliver value-added voice, image and data offerings,” Ambani added.

The Reliance chief looked irritated when queried about matters which appeared trivial to him.

“This is a Rs 25,000-crore company and not a Rs 2000-crore outfit. The chairman is not supposed to know everything,” he said in response to a shareholder who wanted to know the progress in the acquisition of India Polyfibres and Raymond Synthetics.

He scoffed at suggestions that Reliance should keep off loans, saying it waas not possible to be a zero-debt company while big-ticket expansion plans were being implemented.

On Reliance telecom, Ambani said the company has covered 36 cities in its first phase of our cellular operations. Its subscriber base zoomed by 135 per cent to 70,000 this year. “We expect to expand our service to over 90 cities, and to double our subscriber base over the next year or so.”

Ambani ruled out a merger between Reliance and Reliance Petroleum, saying they would remain separate entities.

However, the focus on focus on oil and gas will be sharpened. What has come as a boost to the company is that estimates of recoverable reserves from Panna and Mukta have been raised by 28 per cent; while the Tapti field is expected to produce 200 per cent more than the previous estimates.

Besides, the company has bagged 14 new oil blocks, which are expected to generate big money in the future. Ambani also said his company will participate in a major way in all future rounds of bidding under the new oil hunt policy.

Exports are expected to surpass Rs 2,500 crore this year. Ambani said the scorching pace of growth in the past few years has given him enough to believe that RIL and RPL will emerge as India’s top two private sector companies this year.

On Reliance’s foray into the power sector, Ambani said the company is already is the largest producer of captive power, generating over 800 MW every year.

“We are promoting a number of independent power projects in the country. Our objective is to achieve capacity of 10,000 MW over the next 5 to 10 years.”

Ambai said his company has already made an open offer to acquire an additional 20 per cent of the equity share capital of BSES to ensure a change in management control.

In fact, he talked about BSES, RIL and Reliance Petroleum in the same breath — an indication of sorts that the takeover of the Mumbai-based utility is a foregone conclusion for the Ambanis.    

New Delhi, June 13 
The government today sent strong signals that public sector banks will have to hasten recovery of bad loans and chalk out plans to cut flab.

The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) will formulate guidelines for a one-time settlement scheme for outstandings up to Rs 10 crore by July 15, in a bid to tackle the whopping Rs 51,000 crore non-performing assets (NPAs) of public sector banks.

Following a meeting between finance minister Yashwant Sinha and chiefs of 27 nationalised banks today, a seven-member group headed by the Indian Banks Association (IBA) chairman S.S. Kohli, has also been constituted to evolve measures to improve human resources for increasing the banks’ efficiency. The government is presently finalising a voluntary retirement scheme (VRS) package, which will be announced in a month’s time.

The RBI had earlier issued guidelines for a one-time dues settlement for the small scale sector. The revised guidelines applicable to all sectors will shortly be worked out. While formulating these guidelines, the central bank will decide the benchmark for an interest waiver on bad loans.

For outstandings over Rs 10 crore, Sinha has asked banking chiefs to personally monitor the cases. The board would decide on a restructuring or rehabilitation package. If restructuring is not feasible, the bank may file a suit at the Debt Recovery Tribunal. The government has asked the banks to submit a list of such cases by July 15 and a decision on all cases would be taken by September 30.

Emerging from the meeting, Sinha said that he was concerned over the high level of NPAs, though it has marginally come down during the last fiscal.

Later Devi Dayal, special secretary (banking), said gross NPAs were down to Rs 51,667 crore on March 31 this year compared with Rs 51,710 crore on March 31, 1999. In percentage terms it came down from 15.89 per cent to 14.3 per cent, he said, adding the ratio of net NPAs to net advances had been reduced from 8.13 per cent in March 1999, to 7.44 per cent as on March 31, 2000.

According to Devi Dayal, the central bank would come out with the guidelines after the bank chiefs agreed to uniform and non-discriminatory guidelines for recovery of NPAs that would be applicable to all public sector banks.

“There was a consensus that whatever guidelines are to be prepared, they will be completely uniform and non-discriminatory for all banks,” he said.

The committee on human resource development has been constituted to increase the competitiveness of the banks. It would come up with a new recruitment policy and a remuneration package. Officials said banks would have to first to analyse their human resource requirement before implementing a VRS.

Devi Dayal added that the meeting also focused on accelerating priority sector loans. Bank officials would be provided incentives for speedy approval of loans as well as recovery of the bad debts.    

Mumbai, June 13 
Leading horizontal portal is planning to dilute 10 per cent of its equity to leading investors and strategic partners. This follows a massive consolidation plan aimed at expanding the site and offering more value-added services.

Confirming this to The Telegraph, Dhruv Sharma, chief executive officer, said that while the portal was looking for ‘quality money,’ the dilution would be done either with investors or strategic partners, who were likely to add value to the relationship.

The portal, which has targeted 100 million page views, apart from 1.8 million registered users by the end of this fiscal, has identified around 14 new services over the next two months for which it would enter into strategic alliances with various top-of-the-line vortals (vertical portals). These alliances would be in the sphere of education, technology, entertainment, films, career and a site for women.

“The alliances would be with those vortals who are the best in their own space,” Sharma added. Additionally, is looking at providing more value-added services to expand its customer base. One of the features which it plans in this regard, is offering broadband services in the field of news and entertainment among others. “In offering such services, the route which we will take is to partner with the best technology providers,” Sharma said.

Besides, the portal plans to introduce the instant messenger facility.

Meanwhile, has been rated among the top 5 sites visited by Indians world-wide and the only Indian site in the top 5 by the leading dotcom rating agency, Alaxa, part of the Amazon world-wide network. The rating, according to officials, was awarded on the basis of page views, content and the overall performance of the site.

Founded in 1997, the site has seen a growth in its registered user base from 50,000 to more than 6.25 lakh and it enjoys more than 54 million page views per month. The portal, which is an India dedicated internet media site, offers branded web content and other services like chat, greetings, cricket, message boards, weather, stock quotes, personal home pages among others.

The portal is also planning to introduce business-to-business (B2B) and e-commerce services in the next two months. Officials added that revenues from this line of business would account for more than 50 per cent of its total turnover.

B2B portal launch

Indiainfo has launched its B2B portal, ‘,’ which will act as a sourcing site for both buyers and customers.

Vendors can attract buyers, display products, submit quotations, negotiate prices and sell via the internet while customers can shortlist vendors, select products and generate purchase orders online, the company said in a statement here.

“We have always aimed to make Pvt Ltd a comprehensive portal network and not just a B2C portal,” president (business development) of, V. S. S. Mani said.    

New Delhi, June 13 
Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) plans to spread its operations to Russia by picking up 50 per cent of Roseneft’s stake in the Sakhalin oil field for $1.3 billion. It also intends buy equity in Ugut Kinyamin oil field for $ 300 million and in Sibneft’s western Siberian oil field for $ 250 million.

Half of the 40 per cent stake controlled by Roseneft in the Sakhalin project will be picked up by ONGC Videsh, the Indian upstream major’s foreign arm. Exxon-Mobil of the US and Japan’s Sodeco are the other partners in the project. ONGC will pay for it by bartering its stake in the Cauvery basin, Bombay High and Gujarat offshore oil blocks.

Petroleum minister Ram Naik, now attending the World Petroleum Congress at Calgary in Canada, is expected to finalise the deals with the Russian delegates at the conference.

Officials said the deal for a stake in the Ugut Kinyamin oil field (10 mt oil reserves) in Western Siberia is being negotiated with Yukos Projects, Russia’s second largest oil company. Negotiations to pick up a stake in Sibneft’s western Siberian oil field (reserves of 80 mt) is at an advanced stage. A technical study, of the kind that precedes talks, is now being conducted.

Before opening negotiations to buy 20 per cent in the Sakhalin oil fields, ONGC Videsh has asked JP Morgan to study the viability of the project. “ONGC is also talking to a host of oil companies for joint participation with a number of global players operating in Russia,” officials said.    

New Delhi, June 13 
Bank of Baroda (BoB) will soon shortlist a consultant to work out details for its insurance foray. Chairman P. S. Shenoy said, “We have invited applications for a consultant and they will be appointed shortly.”

The consultant would assist the bank in taking a decision on whether its insurance foray would be in the life or the non-life sector, as well as identify suitable joint venture partners. He hoped that the bank’s insurance plans would be in place within the next three months. The bank may also consider going in for a three-way joint venture with one foreign and local partner.    

New Delhi, June 13 
The proposals of Jet Airways and Powergen India to issue overseas preference shares were among the foreign direct investment worth Rs 429 crore cleared by the government today.

Industry and commerce minister Murasoli Maran approved 29 foreign direct investment proposals including that of UK-based power major Powergen to issue preference shares worth Rs 300 crore in its holding company in India, an official release said here today.

Domestic airline Jet Airways has been allowed to issue non-voting cumulative convertible redeemable preference shares worth Rs 66 crore.

These proposals were cleared by the minister on the recommendations of the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB).

US multinational Enron Corporation’s Indian subsidiary Enron India Ltd has been allowed to enter into the liquefied natural gas infrastructure associated with power plants in the country, the release said.

Enron is planning to set up a five million tonne liquefied natural gas import facility at Dabhol in Maharashtra for its 2,144 mw power project besides entering into the pipeline business.

Approval for India Incubater engaged in the development, promotion and marketing of websites including e-commerce and computer consultancy business has been allowed to pump in Rs 21.75 crore in the company, the release said.

Government also approved the proposal of Mauritius-based International Web Travel Pvt Ltd to bring in Rs 8.70 crore in the company involved in the business of providing web-based information, advice, consultancy and commercial services.

US multinational United Dominion Holding Inc has been allowed to bring in Rs 21.50 crore for carrying out business relating to manufacture of evaporative cooling towers and air cooled heat exchanges, the release said.    

New Delhi, June 13 
The two domestic airlines — privately owned Jet Airways and state-run Indian Airlines — have started a new rate war in their battle for the skies. While Indian Airlines is hawking cheap holiday packages, Jet Airways, which is never late on the uptake, is responding with a rival package that offers hefty hotel discounts as freebies with its flight tickets.

Taking off from their bitterly contested price war last year over the metro routes to Mumbai route, Jet Airways is offering 40 per cent discounts for a stay at Ramada Palm Grove and The Retreat along with their tickets. IA has hit back with 50 per cent cuts for a stay at Mumbai’s Holiday Inn and at Hotel Ambassador. IA has also lined up 30-50 per cent discounts at Calcutta’s Park hotel and Hindustan International and 50 per cent rate cuts for a stay at Delhi’s Sidharth and Vasant Continental. But there is a catch. The offers and counter offers are all valid only till the end of the monsoon season, that is end-September.

The other routes on which the two have decided to train their heavy artillery are those leading to the happy shores of Goa. Jet is offering a three-night-four-day `Taj Exotica holiday package’ to Goa that will cost just Rs 11,474 per person. This includes a Mumbai-Goa-Mumbai ticket, airport transfers, welcome drink, breakfast, and lunch or dinner and use of health clubs, swimming pools and jacuzzi.

To rival this, IA is offering a three nights and four days package at three Goa resorts — Majorda, Cidade de Goa and Whispering Palms for air travellers from Mumbai, Delhi, Ahmedabad, Chennai and Cochin. Rates vary from Rs 7,998 a person to Rs 15,998 a person depending on the hotel and the place from where the tourist is coming.

But the war is shifting to other destinations too. IA has on offer a four night-five day River Retreat package through the dense forest of Karnataka. Ex-Calcutta, the package will cost about Rs 22,270, while the Natural Nirvana Safari Package spanning five-nights-and six days again in Karnataka is being offered to Calcutta passengers for Rs 23,580. Packages can be worked out for the jungles, beaches and backwaters of Kerala. Jet also has on offer packages to off the main circuit destinations on its ATR 72-500 jets to Udaipur, Keshod, Diu and Porbander, besides packages to Munnar, Kodaikanal, Ooty, Manali, Mussoorie and Darjeeling.

“This year’s war is really a low key takeoff from last year’s rate war,” Debasish Chatterjee of CTI Travel said.

Last year the two had extended their fare war well into August over the lucrative Delhi-Mumbai route with cuts of up to 26 per cent. Indian Airlines had responded to rate cuts by Sahara and Jet, its small but more aggressive privately run rivals. With more staying power IA had eventually managed to wear down its rivals into peace talks.

All sides however claimed victory, possibly because the low rates triggered off better seat sales. IA claimed it was flying 3,250 passengers a day compared with 2,700 passengers normally during this lean season on the Mumbai-Delhi route. Jet and Sahara claimed they had managed to convert first class railway passengers to their flights.    

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