No hump in mega road plan
IDBI set to get new look,focus on retail segment
Buddha holds out infotech boom hope
New Coca-Cola drink comes as a Shock
Canbank MF in search of partner

New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
The US strikes against terrorism may have squelched funding prospects in various sectors, but the National Highway Authority of India isn’t worried because it has found a saviour in Life Insurance Corporation of India which is likely to invest Rs 4,000 crore in the Golden Quadrilateral road project.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s dream project of four-laning roads and connecting the four major metros—Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai—by 2004 seems to be on schedule. The minister of state for roads and highways Maj Gen (Retd) B.C. Khanduri is keen that the project be completed before schedule and has advanced the target date by a year.

“We will not be affected by the current crisis. We had planned to raise about Rs 8,000-10,000 crore for the project during 2002-2003. About Rs 4,000-5,000 crore would come from a cess on diesel and we were expecting to raise the rest from the market, but the market’s situation is known. So we approached LIC and they are keen to invest in the project,” said Khanduri.

“Till now, we have raised about Rs 700 crore from the market through the open ended bonds till March 31, 2002. But we are likely to get about Rs 3,000-4,000 crore from LIC so funds for the next financial year are already in place,” he added.

The ministry of roads and highways is also optimistic that private investment in 5,952 km roads under the Golden Quadrilateral project and the 7,300 km north-south and east-west corridors will not be affected by the current crisis. The Golden Quadrilateral project is estimated to cost about Rs 25,055 crore while the corridors would cost about Rs 30,000 crore which is to be completed by year 2007.

“Only Rs 4,000 crore worth of projects have been planned to be given to private sector out of the total Rs 55,055 crore worth of projects. As a result, we will not face any major problem in completing the projects in time,” said Khanduri.

He added: “Till July, we had given 118 contracts for the two major projects. Out of this, 77 have been awarded to Indian firms, 32 are with joint venture firms and only nine have been given to foreign companies. This is expected to ensure continuity of projects and faster completion.”

The ministry is also planning to set up highway patrols is association with state governments. A model project is already being undertaken on Delhi-Jaipur highway.


Mumbai, Oct. 13: 
Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI) is getting ready for a nose-job — to refurbish its worn-out image and enhance brand appeal. The term-lending institution is looking at ways in which can sport a new look to stand up to smarter and nimbler rivals like ICICI.

The need for a makeover was voiced in an internal meeting the new chairman, P P Vora, held with employees and officers recently. They are believed to have argued that the institution must improve its image further and acquire a brand-pull that rivals ICICI’s. “It is imperative that the institution’s image is bolstered, particularly when it comes to retail customer. This was communicated to the chairman, who understood the merits of going ahead with the plan,” a senior IDBI official said.

Employees at the Mumbai-based FI were sent a questionnaire to elicit their views on how the institution can be turned into an attractive, customer-focused organisation. There are no details of the manner in which the makeover will happen, but there is an understanding that a strong brand muscle is the key to lure retail customers after conversion into a universal bank.

For instance, the task of raising cheap deposits would be made easier if customers have the right perception. Housing finance is another area the institution has identified as a business with massive potential.

Vora had said shortly after taking over the reigns that providing home loans was an attractive business proposition and, more important, it had one of the lowest bad-loan count in the financial service industry.

Another issue which the employees felt strongly about was the need to contain IDBI’s massive non- performing assets (NPAs). Currently, the ratio of net NPAs in IDBI is around 14 per cent, and Vora has set a target to bring it down to less than 10 per cent.

Sources said the institution would have to take a fresh look at the critical issue of pay-scales to retain and draw good talent. Though some changes were made few months ago, the feeling is that there is still a lot to be done, especially when seen against the backdrop of ICICI.

At last week’s meeting, Vora reiterated his intention to reposition his institution in a manner that facilitates its transformation into a universal bank. “This is one of the priorities. The chairman asserted that universal banking will be pursued seriously,” the official said.

ICICI is also toying with the proposal, but industry analysts say both institutions will have to wield the broom on their asset books before pursuing universal banking.


Haldia, Oct. 13: 
West Bengal is set to take major strides in information technology with bigwigs like Microsoft, IBM and Wipro showing interest in the state, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee, said today.

Bhattacharjee, who was speaking at the inauguration of a state-of-the-art detergent plant of Hindustan Lever Ltd (HLL) here, said these infotech majors were in touch with the state government. “Very soon an announcement on these projects will be made.”

Despite the economic slowdown globally and in the country, he said, the state has not been much affected by it. “We are much better placed.”

He said his government was putting special emphasis on agro-based and IT industries and claimed that West Bengal had taken major strides in the IT sector. Only last year the total IT export stood at Rs 965 crore.

The other areas which the state government was underscoring were chemicals, plastics, hosiery, leather and handloom.

Haldia, he said, was emerging as a major industrial hub after commissioning of the Rs 5170 crore Haldia Petrochemicals Limited (HPL).

Already 438 downstream projects of HPL, which included 27 in the medium sector, had come up, Bhattacharjee said.

HLL bonus debentures

HLL chairman M.S. Banga said today that the decision to issue bonus debentures was taken in the best interest of shareholders.

“They (the debentures) are very good for shareholders because a bonus share does not really benefit them,” Banga told reporters here today. He emphasised that debentures gave the shareholder an option either to retain it or redeem it. The debentures would be treated as deemed dividend, but would not be liable for tax. Banga, however, made it clear that a final decision would be taken by the HLL board scheduled to meet on October 16.

Apart from being beneficial to shareholders, the debenture issue would also improve the balance sheet of the company, he said.

In a communication to stock exchanges earlier this week, the Unilever subsidiary had said that it would consider issuing bonus debentures to the tune of Rs 1,320 crore by drawing upon the general reserves of the company.

The HLL chairman, who was here to inaugurate the company’s state-of-the-art detergent plant, said despite a sluggish economy, HLL continued to make major investments.

The detergent unit was Haldia’s seventh plant opened this year and accounted for 25 per cent of its total investments. “And this is the reason we are confident about the growth of the market.”

Banga said the 30,000 tonne per annum plant was set up at a cost of Rs 40 crore with technology imports from Italy.

Describing the plant as world class, Banga said it was set up in a world record time of eight months and 15 days, and would boost the company’s significant presence in West Bengal.


New Delhi, Oct. 13: 
Coca-Cola is preparing to launch Shock— its new energy drink—next week in India. Shock is a carbonated drink which will be available in 250 ml glass bottles.

The company is also planning to come out with a powder drink called Sunfill but that will come later. With Sunfill, the company wants to take on Rasna, which dominates the powdered drinks segment.

The energy drink Shock will initially be launched in the Delhi market and later in Mumbai. It will subsequently be taken to other parts of the country, based on consumer responses.

The energy drink will be marketed through select outlets which will include places like gyms and discos. According to a company spokesperson, Shock is a stimulating drink meant to boost energy levels. and remove lethargy.

Shock is being presented as a ‘zesty drink to enliven moods, ideal for people who need refreshing. The company is reluctant to speak about the pricing points for either Shock or Sunfill maintaining that they will be attractively priced.

The introduction of Shock and Sunfill is part of Coca-Cola’s strategy to become a total commercial beverage company in the non-alcoholic segment. At a later date the company is also interested in coming out with iced teas and cold coffees, which will pit it against Lipton and Britannia.

Of late, new product launches by Coca-Cola include pineapple and orange flavours of Maaza fortified with calcium and vitamins as also green apple and watermelon flavours for Fanta.


Calcutta, Oct. 13: 
Canbank Mutual Fund—a subsidiary of Canara Bank—is scouting for a strategic partner to bring in expertise in the business. R.K. Madhukar, executive director of the asset management company, said: “We have had discussions with some interested parties, but have not been able to finalise the tie-up as yet.”

Canbank Mutual Fund manages close to Rs 600 crore of assets under nine open-ended and four close-ended schemes. The asset management company has presence in 16 cities in the country and has firmed up plans to promote itself more aggressively.

“The markets presently offer great investment opportunities, and we want to cash in on the situation to launch new schemes,” Madhukar said.


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