DoT staff to contest govt offer
Alto bridges small car divide
A-I invites bids for 40% stake
Full Plan panel meet toconsider spending cuts
Razor-sharp in striking deals
It pays to be human
Foreign Exchange, Bullion, Stock Indices

 
 
DOT STAFF TO CONTEST GOVT OFFER 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept 28: 
The telecom officers today rejected the government’s offer of a five year deemed deputation in the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL), threatening legal action against it for blatant discrimination by trying to lop them off from the rest of the civil services.

The 4000-strong Indian Telecom Service Association has given a call for a one-day mass casual leave tomorrow while the National Action Committee against corporatisation, an umbrella body of seven trade unions affiliated to Left parties, has also called for a two-hour work boycott on Friday.

Meanwhile, communications minister Ram Vilas Paswan has reiterated the government’s decision that the Indian Telecom Service officers who were recruited through UPSC would be offered deemed deputation up to five years.

To prevent any unforeseen incident, security has been beefed up at Sanchar Bhawan, the headquarters of the Department of Telecommunications (DoT). A contingent of the Rapid Action Force has been positioned at the site. The officers, who have been agitating for over a fortnight demanding cadre protection, rejected Paswan’s announcement and said they would resort to legal action against the Department of Personnel and Training (DPOT) and the DoT for “discrimination.”

“Its rules, 1992 and the UPSC prospectus have offered telecom officers job protection and growth along with other civil service cadres; but by transferring us from government to the corporation, the government has violated these rules and we will resort to legal action,” said the association’s secretary general A.K Sinha.

Paswan said all officers and employees of Department of Telecom Service and Operations would be transferred to BSNL with effect from Sunday. He said the transferred employees would continue as ‘central government employees’ till the date of absorption. An expert committee will be constituted to work out the arrangements and future strategy with regard to cadre management of Group A officers.

Tax holiday for BSNL sought

The communications ministry is seeking a tax holiday for the corporatised Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd (BSNL). It has asked the finance ministry to extend the notification offering a five-year tax holiday to telecom companies to the BSNL. Sources in the department of telecommunications (DoT) said, “The government must give similar tax benefits to BSNL as it has to other telecom companies, in order to offer a level playing field. The notification can either be extended to December 31, 2000, or March 31, 2001.”    


 
 
ALTO BRIDGES SMALL CAR DIVIDE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
New Delhi, Sept 28: 
Maruti Udyog, struggling to remain the country’s biggest auto-maker, today launched its much-awaited Alto model in a debut it hopes will attract potential buyers who are looking for a small car priced between its 800 on the one hand, and Zen and WagonR marques on the other.

The ‘hottest little car in town’ from the Suzuki stable is similar to the 800 model, but Maruti managing director Jagdish Khattar scotched fears that Alto would push the flagship out of the market.

“They are two different cars with different aspirational values. Maruti-800 will continue to remain an entry-level car, and it is one of the cheapest available in the world,” he said. However, many Maruti officials do not feel the same. According to them, Alto would definitely nibble away at M800’s share over a five-year period in such a manner that it may lead to the country’s first small car being phased out.

Alto will appear in two variants, the 796-cc Alto LX and the 1061-cc Alto VX1.1. The two models, which will cost Rs 3,06,705 and Rs 3,72,243 respectively in Calcutta’s showrooms, will compete with other small cars such as Matiz and Santro.

Alto LX is powered by a 796cc, 45bhp, 12 valve MPFI engine while the AltoVX1.1 is driven by a 1061cc, 62bhp, 16 valve MPFI engine. The two variants have four valves per cylinder and have a five-speed all-synchromesh manual gearbox. The model will be available in ruby red, pacifique green, milky white, cool silver, Atlantic blue, Silicon gold and coral beige colours.

Khattar said his company plans to roll out 16,000-18,000 Altos over the next six months. According to him, the launch is in line with the company’s plan to offer new models. The past 10 months saw four new models being unveiled, and the company intends to introduce a new one every year.

On the future of Maruti, Khattar said his company is still the leader, and will command ‘little less than 60 per cent of the total car market soon’. Its current market share is 35 per cent, while it has 35 per cent of the industry capacity.

Maruti to raise Rs 400 crore

The company will tap the market in the current fiscal to raise Rs 400 crore through a long-term bond or debenture issue, MUL finance director A R Halasyam said today. It will not exercise the Rs 100 crore commercial paper (CP) programme planned earlier, he said on the sidelines of the launch of the Alto.    


 
 
A-I INVITES BIDS FOR 40% STAKE 
 
 
FROM OUR CORRESPONDENT
 
Mumbai, Sept 28: 
The government today invited bids from companies interested in picking up a 40 per cent stake in Air-India (A-I) by placing advertisements for an ‘expression of interest’.

The advertisement will appear tomorrow in leading business dailies in the country, and also in the 19 editions of the international business newspaper, The Financial Times.

According to the pre-qualification criteria, companies which bid for a stake should have had a combined net worth of more than Rs 1,000 crore ($ 225 million). Of the 40 per cent on the block, 14 per cent has been set aside for Indian investors.

Those interested will have to submit their expression of interest, along with their latest audited annual report and a profile describing their operations, by November 10.

The Tatas — an industrial conglomerate keen on A-I’s equity after their planned venture with Singapore Airlines could not survive the government’s dithering — welcomed the development.

“The Tata group welcomes the announcement by the government inviting expressions of interest in the partial disinvestment of its stake in Air-India. Given the historical ties of Air-India and the Tatas, we will be interested in participating in A-I’s disinvestment programme,” a Tata group release said.

The Reliance group, the other major contender in the fray, was less forthcoming with its feelings. Its spokesperson would offer no comment when asked for a reaction on the offer.

However, Jet Airways, also a prospective suitor, will hardly be happy because of a clause in the offer that keeps out non-resident Indians (NRIs) and overseas corporate bodies (OCBs) from the 14 per cent stake set aside for Indian investors.

The largest private sector airline in the Indian skies is indirectly owned by NRIs led by Naresh Goyal. Industry watchers said the nationality clause and the net worth norm will prevent Jet from buying a stake in A-I.

British Airways (BA), Delta Airlines-Air France Combine, Virgin Atlantic and Emirates Airways are among the prominent carriers which have expressed their interest in Air-India.

Under the government’s disinvestment programme, up to 10 per cent of A-I’s stake would be offered to employees; the rest would be sold to financial institutions and/or floated in the capital market.

In choosing the strategic partner(s), the government says it will pay attention to the security requirements of the country.

Air-India has two wholly owned subsidiaries: Hotel Corporation of India, which operates hotels under the Centaur brand name, and offers in-flight catering services called Chefair.

The other subsidiary, Air-India Charters Limited, provides security and other assorted services to airlines.    


 
 
FULL PLAN PANEL MEET TOCONSIDER SPENDING CUTS 
 
 
FROM JAYANTA ROY CHOWDHURY
 
New Delhi, Sept 28: 
The Prime Minister will convene this week a full meeting of the Planning Commission to discuss the mid-term appraisal of the Ninth Plan, which has thrown up a raft of reform measures to rein in the government’s runaway expenditure and bolster its feeble finances.

The review suggested that the government cut plan spending, reduce tax exemptions, introduce structural changes in the banking sector, privatise a part of the postal department, limit public distribution to rice and wheat, and implement an exit policy along with a social security net.

The mid-term appraisal says spending on a number of plan schemes should be reviewed and, if they are found unnecessary or irrelevant to policy goals, they should be scrapped.

It has voiced concern over the interest burden of the government, which is estimated to soak 70 per cent of the Centre’s tax revenues this year. The review says high-cost debt will have to be retired, and the myriad exemptions and deductions allowed to tax-payers will have to be abolished as well. It also wants the value-added tax (VAT) to be introduced throughout the country quickly. The government should also consider controversial proposal for a tax on farm incomes.

The planners want the Prime Minister to carry out structural changes in the banking system, including the creation of a regulatory framework for the launch of universal banking. The review is in favour of recapitalisation of the weak PSU banks, new laws to allow NPAs to be discounted and settled out of court, besides the enactment of new debt-recovery laws.

The plan panel also wants a transition period during which financial institutions can turn into banks under universal banking laws. In this time, the FIs can phase in necessary liability reserve requirements. It also wants banks and FIs to comply with the Basle Committee’s recommendations, including higher minimum capital norms. However, planners say since most banks in India will find it difficult to follow the stringent set of regulations, a modified approach could be adopted. For instance, banks can be allowed to use internal credit ratings for more accurate assessment of their capital requirements in relation to their risk profile.

The plan body feels this will lead to early supervision and intervention in the banking sector, and greater disclosures. The full plan panel will also be asked to agree to partial privatisation of postal services.

This would allow private firms to open post offices in urban areas, print postal stationary, sell it through licensed agents or franchisees, and even private processing of bulk mail. For these to happen, a few amendments in the Postal Act of 1898 have been suggested.    


 
 
RAZOR-SHARP IN STRIKING DEALS 
 
 
FROM RAJA GHOSHAL
 
New Delhi, Sept 28: 
Game for a holiday? Choose your destination and indicate the price you are willing to pay for a stay there. Then sit back and watch hotels in that city bid to match your price!

Welcome to an auction with a difference. Calling itself India’s first reverse auction site, the four-month old Razorfinish.com has tied up with more than 300 hotels in India, getting them to bid against each other to bring down prices of their vacant rooms, to match the price indicated by the customer.

Logging in is not restricted by lack of access to the internet — a mouse, a mobile or your old fashioned telephone will do just as well.

Bookings on the site can be done through a toll-free number in India. Apart from paying via credit cards, the portal has an option of cash payments through a ‘bid by phone’ scheme.

The portal today introduced m-commerce services through a tieup with Hutchison Max Telecom Ltd, under the ‘Orangeworld’ brand name.

And what’s more, the hotels will pick up the tab for the entire process, as the site charges a 10 per cent fee from the hotels for every settled bid.

“It is like a subzi mandi at 8,” explains A. Jain, founder of Razorfinish.com, who is also on its board of directors.

The name of the game, however, is holding out for the right price.

“Both the buyer and the seller want a sale. The seller knows his room will remain vacant if he doesn’t sell in time, while the buyer knows if he doesn’t book now he will be left high and dry in a strange city. It’s all about who blinks when,” said Jain, a Colombia University graduate.

While the hoteliers’ Net bids are transparent, their identities are secret. “That’s to ensure none of the hotels know each other’s identities,” Jain said.    


 
 
IT PAYS TO BE HUMAN 
 
 
FROM M RAJENDRAN
 
New Delhi, Sept 28: 
With the electronic world throwing up more security problems than can be handled by chips, experts are rediscovering the fact that it pays to be human after all. Human characteristics may soon replace ATM cards and other plastic cards as authentication and identification tools. Thanks to biometrics, your fingerprints or your eyes and not your card will help you get money out of automated teller machines (ATM), entry into offices or a flight boarding pass.

Biometrics employs human characteristics, psychological and behavioural patterns, for authentication purposes. Computer software and hardware companies all over the world are developing such products to reduce the security risks in an internet environment.

Companies in Singapore have taken the lead in implementing biometric technology at various transaction points. While an ATM card is presently used as an authentication and identification tool for withdrawing money from the machines, they are likely to be replaced by fingerprints as authentication tools.

Spectra broadband services

Spectra Net Limited (SNL), a venture of the Punj Lloyd group, today commissioned its broadband services network for the capital, in the India Internet World exhibition. It has wired up Delhi and Gurgaon with more than 600 kms of optic fibre cables. The company has already laid over 100 kms of optic fibre cables in Karnataka and Punjab, intending to take the network to other cities.    


 
 
FOREIGN EXCHANGE, BULLION, STOCK INDICES 
 
 
 
 

Foreign Exchange

US $1	Rs. 35.85	HK $1	Rs. 4.63*
UK £1	Rs. 58.37	SW Fr 1	Rs. 25.37*
Euro	Rs. 21.92	Sing $1	Rs. 25.44*
Yen 100	Rs. 30.08	Aus $1	Rs. 27.73*
*SBI TC buying rates; others are forex market closing rates

Bullion

Calcutta	Bombay

Gold Std (10gm)	Rs. 4975	Gold Std (10 gm	4910
Gold 22 carat	Rs. 4695	Gold 22 carat	4540
Silver bar (Kg)	Rs.7150	Silver (Kg)	6995
Silver portion	Rs. 7250	Silver portion	7000

Stock Indices

Sensex	3562.74		+127.12
BSE-100	1554.63		+48.28
S&P CNX Nifty	1009.18		+23.25
Calcutta	460.90		+14.58
Skindia GDRNA	67.53		-0.35
   
 

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