Experience clause waivedfor Indian Airlines sellof
Indian Hotels weighs merger of subsidiaries
Crisil equity index for mutual funds next week
Siticable set to spin Chandra’s Web dream
Four-member panel to probe SAIL update plan
Gates to open window to ‘dot.Net’ vision
Foreign Exchange, Bullion, Stock Indices

 
 
EXPERIENCE CLAUSE WAIVEDFOR INDIAN AIRLINES SELLOF 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept 8: 
The inter-ministerial group (IMG) on Indian Airlines and Air-India disinvestment has decided to allow companies without prior experience in the airline business to enter the fray for buying the domestic carrier. However, it has recommended that rival airlines—such as Sahara and Jet Airways—-should be barred from the bidding process for Indian Airlines.

For Air-India, its recommendation is that non-resident Indians should not be allowed to bid for Air-India as Indian companies.

The high-powered group has also favoured the inclusion of high equity base as one of the conditions so that small and medium companies are kept away from the bidding process.

In barring Sahara and Jet, the logic given is that if either of the two take over Indian Airlines it would leave flyers at the mercy of a larger monopoly, defeating the very purpose of opening up the skies.

The combined impact of the decisions on Indian Airlines and Air-India divestment is that Naresh Goyal controlled Jet Air will not be able to participate in the Indian Airlines sale and can only bid for Air-India if it ties up with another Indian company. Naresh Goyal, incidentally, is an NRI.

For Air-India, the ground rules now state that of the 40 per cent strategic stake being offered by the government, up to 26 per cent can be sold to foreign or NRI-owned companies or airlines. The remainder has to be bought by an Indian company.

This rather convoluted decision follows intense lobbying by large corporate houses keen on buying into the two airlines. They had been arguing that the prior experience clause should be waived for Indian Airlines bidding as it had been proved that successful businessmen were capable of entering new businesses and making them a success.

Among the business houses who have indicated their willingness to buy into the Indian Airlines are Reliance, Tatas, Hindujas and ITC. On the other hand, aviation giants Singapore Airlines, Air France, British Airways have shown interest for Air-India.

Earlier this week, divestment minister Arun Shouries had indicated at a Ficci seminar that Indian industry wanted relaxation of norms to allow new companies to enter the bidding frays for PSUs put up for sale.    


 
 
INDIAN HOTELS WEIGHS MERGER OF SUBSIDIARIES 
 
 
FROM SATISH JOHN
 
Mumbai, Sept 8: 
In an effort to make a clean breast from the Ajit Kerkar era and untangle the clump of cross holdings, Indian Hotels Company (IHCL), the chain of hotels run by the Tata group, is planning to merge several of its subsidiaries.

The company says the moves are required to make the hotel chain a well-knit, cohesive organisation. “We are now looking at merging these subsidiaries as a means to secure direct equity control through Taj International Hotels, Hong Kong (HK),” a Taj Hotels spokesperson told The Telegraph.

To start with, five Taj investment subsidiaries — Chepstow Corporation NV, Picton Corporation NV, Chieftain Corporation NV, IHOCO BV, Corpac BV — will be merged in a manner that gives Taj International Hotels (HK.) direct equity control.

The five subsidiaries, in turn, control the St. James Court Hotel in London. They are part of a group that will undergo complete reorganisation at the end of the year. In fact, the exercise was initiated last year, when Lextaj Corporation N.V., a Netherlands-incorporated company in which Taj International controlled 35.58 per cent, was sold off.

All the companies are controlled by St James Court Hotel through an intricate web of holdings.

The equity structure will now be streamlined by removing these intermediaries (subsidiaries), allowing Taj HK direct control of its UK-based hotel.

The subsidiaries will be subsumed by its immediate holding company before it is itself wound up. As a result, the subsidiaries will cease to be a going concern, the officials said.

Analysts welcomed the integration efforts, saying the subsidiaries shared a very complex ownership pattern that is not justified by business imperatives.

An analysis of the annual report shows just how intricate web of cross-holdings are. Among the five subsidiaries, Corpac BV owns 80 per cent of St James Court while IHOCO, another subsidiary, controls 31.5 per cent of Corpac BV and 20 per cent of St James Court.

Chieftain Corp owns the remaining 68.85 per cent in Corpac, and the wholly owned IHOCO BV while Chepstow Corp owns 60 per cent per cent in Chieftain. Chepstow also had on its books £ 20 million zero-coupon loan notes issued by St James Court. Picton Corporation, on the other hand, owned 100 per cent in Chepstow.    


 
 
CRISIL EQUITY INDEX FOR MUTUAL FUNDS NEXT WEEK 
 
 
BY A STAFF REPORTER
 
Calcutta, Sept 8: 
Crisil will introduce a composite index for equity in open-ended mutual funds from next week. The index will reflect the net-asset value of 150 mutual funds, giving investors an easy gauge with which to measure their performance.

Disclosing this at a seminar titled, ‘Mutual funds, steering investors through the crisis’, the chairman of Association of Mutual Funds of India (Amfi), A. P. Kurien, said a rating of all mutual funds will be introduced in the next phase to bring about transparency and help investors in assessing the strength of the organisation before putting their money in them.

Kurien, a veteran of the MF industry and a former UTI trustee, said funds must better the market averages — both in the bull and bear phases. Mutual funds, he said, should run ahead of the bull in bull phase, and slower during a bearish one.

But, by and large, investors and funds should take a longer term view of the market, which could be a three-year time-span, Kurien said. Other panelists included Jeremy Beswick, president and chief executive officer of Birla Sunlife, Nikhil N. Khattau, chairman Sun F&C, and V.P. Chaturvedi, CEO of Chola Mandalam Cazenove.    


 
 
SITICABLE SET TO SPIN CHANDRA’S WEB DREAM 
 
 
FROM VIVEK NAIR
 
Mumbai, Sept 8: 
Entertainment major Zee Telefilms Ltd (ZTL) plans to leverage the vast distribution strengths of SitiCable Network Ltd, its cable distribution arm, to offer a host of services such as video-on-demand, gaming, banking and e-commerce, besides what chairman Subhash Chandra describes as ‘Niagra Falls-like access to the internet.’

In fact SitiCable, which the network claims has been recognised as the most dominant last mile link and has so far been used only to deliver one-way TV content, will deliver information and knowledge products to the consumer. The distribution arm which posted a turnover of Rs 58.95 crore in the previous fiscal, is believed to be the market leader in the cable TV networking business.

While SitiCable expects revenues to grow by 40 per cent annually, it now plans to go for digitalisation, apart from upgrading the network, to adopt more channels.

ZTL officials said that the distribution strengths of SitiCable are significant, considering its stress on internet and convergence technology. Subhash Chandra, while distribution convergence would be built around SitiCable, the existing strengths of the company in this regard, would enable it to harness a “new source of revenue addition for the same content.”

Outlining his vision in the company’s annual report, Chandra said the idea was to make Zee a “big media conglomerate, making it the undisputed leader in the mindshare business.”

He added that ZTL was also in the process of creating newer streams of content in sports, particularly in soccer and cricket, so as to be in a position to launch a full-blown sports channel.

Media analysts aver that the significance of SitiCable can be comprehended from the network’s massive hybrid fibre co-axial (HFC) programme, which entails an investment of around Rs 2,500 crore spread over the next three years. This, according to reports, would see SitiCable investing Rs 700 crore in the year 2001, Rs 1560 crore in the following year and Rs 218.5 crore during the year 2003. While the mode of financing is yet to be worked out by the company, it is largely believed that it would be met through part divestment of SitiCable, which was valued at a huge $ 3.5 billion.

ZTL also plans to broadbase its board, to include more independent directors in line with the requirements of the corporate governance code.    


 
 
FOUR-MEMBER PANEL TO PROBE SAIL UPDATE PLAN 
 
 
FROM OUR SPECIAL CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept 8: 
The government today announced a high-level probe into the modernisation of Durgapur and Rourkela steel plants run by Steel Authority of India Limited (SAIL).

Announcing the four-member committee headed by former planning secretary J. S. Baijal, steel minister Braja Kishore Tripathi said the panel would look into the steep cost and time overruns in the upgradation carried out at the two plants. The report will be submitted within six months.

It will find out why the plan — that was supposed to cost Rs 2,668 crore in Durgapur and Rs 2,461 crore in Rourkela units — finally drained the company of Rs 5,075 crore and Rs 5,105 crore respectively. The reason why the job took 10 years will also be probed.

Tripathi, who represents the Biju Janata Dal in the council of ministers, said the findings could be handed over to the Central Vigilance Commission if serious lapses emerged.

The demand for an inquiry into the modernisation of SAIL plants has been raised time and again at several forums over the past few years. Tripathi said the Parliamentary Standing Committee on industry had also recommended that a high-level probe should be conducted in the massive cost and time overruns in SAIL’s modernisation project, and the responsibility for the lapses should be fixed.

The committee will determine if there were irregularities in the purchase of equipment. It has also been asked to compare the performance of the two plants, after and before the update. It will account for the difference, and suggest ways in which the quality of steel produced at these units can be improved. The government, he said, would also look into ways to halt the supply of defective steel products from SAIL plants.

Many, however, feel Tripathi will use the inquiry as a political weapon to browbeat former steel minister and BJD MP, Dilip Ray, who has been trying to build up a phalanx of rebels against party leader Naveen Patnaik. The penultimate phase of modernisation at the Rourkela plant was executed, and wrapped up, when Ray was the steel minister.    


 
 
GATES TO OPEN WINDOW TO ‘DOT.NET’ VISION 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept 8: 
Microsoft’s chief architect Bill Gates will visit India on the 14th of this month to chart out his company’s internet strategy in the country.

Ensuring the right kind of audience for the world’s richest man will be Nasscom chief Dewang Mehta. The august audience will include CEOs of various infotech companies and software developers, said Sanjay Mirchandani, managing director of Microsoft Corporation India Pvt Ltd.

Gates, who last came to India in March 1997, will share his vision on Microsoft’s ‘dot.Net strategy,’ unveiled in June this year.

Mirchandani said that the ‘dot.Net’ strategy is as significant as a shift from the Disk Operated System (DOS) to the Windows. The key element in this strategy is the visualisation of the internet in the times to come.

Since access to the internet in the near future is unlikely to remain dependent on PCs, Microsoft’s endeavour would be to empower people through great software that would let them log on to the Net any time, any place and on any device, said Mirchandani.

It will focus on developing the next generation of software for the next generation of the internet.

According to a Microsoft India spokesperson, the future of convergence lies not in the confluence of access devices but in virtual convergence, where all the data of an individual entity will be stored in a central data storage device from where it can be retrieved on any of the access devices.

He said the evolution of access devices would continue with the development of more natural interfaces such as speech and handwriting recognition software.

Microsoft is readying for the shift from individual websites or devices connected to the Net, to constellations of computers, devices and services that work together and moreover collaborate with each other to provide the enhanced service rather than being ‘isolated islands.’

In fact, it is seeking HTML-based presentation to be augmented by a programmable XML-based one.

XML or Extensible Markup Language is an industry standard developed with inputs from Microsoft, but is not a proprietary Microsoft technology. However, Microsoft envisages that standardisation through a universal language of XML can enable users to experience a seamless internet usage, as all kinds of data from all kinds of connected input devices would flow through the standard XML format.

Further, a universal platform like XML will enable a good software developer in India develop a software and sell it world-wide, said Mirchandani.    


 
 
FOREIGN EXCHANGE, BULLION, STOCK INDICES 
 
 
 
 

Foreign Exchange

US $1	Rs.45.64	HK $1	Rs. 5.75*
UK £1	Rs. 64.95	SW Fr 1	Rs. 25.35*
Euro	Rs. 39.88	Sing $1	Rs. 26.00*
Yen 100	Rs. 43.25	Aus $1	Rs. 25.20*
*SBI TC buying rates; others are forex market closing rates

Bullion

Calcutta	Bombay

Gold Std (10gm)	Rs. 4570	Gold Std (10 gm	4500
Gold 22 carat	Rs. 4315	Gold 22 carat	4160
Silver bar (Kg)	Rs.7925	Silver (Kg)	8040
Silver portion	Rs.8025	Silver portion	8045

Stock Indices

Sensex	4668.27	+39.34
BSE-100	2390.36	+13.09
S&P CNX NiftyNA	-	
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