Govt plumps for multi-fuel auto policy
World Bank asks states to cap pay hikes, subsidy
Jute strike called off on tripartite agreement
MTNL weighs IndiaOne option

New Delhi, Jan. 5: 
The government has decided not to push for the use of a single fuel for the country’s public transport system and instead adopt a multi-fuel policy that will cover petrol, diesel, CNG (compressed natural gas) and gasohol, which is a cocktail of petrol and ethanol — a hot new fuel that has found many new proponents.

The new auto fuel policy, which will be placed before the Cabinet for approval shortly, will focus on the need to bring down tail-pipe emissions rather than prescribe the use of any particular fuel or push for any particular kind of vehicle.

Tail-pipe emission standards will be tightened in seven mega cities — Calcutta, Mumbai, Delhi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Jaipur — where carmakers will have to market vehicles that meet the tougher Euro III standards by April 2005.

“We will not specify any particular fuel or vehicle type to check pollution, but will only lay down vehicular emission norms and matching fuel specifications,” said petroleum minister Ram Naik here today.

A group of ministers (GoM) met today and accepted the recommendations of the R.A. Mashelkar committee on the auto fuel policy. The meeting was convened by the petroleum ministry and the participants included Union law minister Arun Jaitley, Vijay Goel, minister of state in the PMO, as well as former Delhi chief minister and BJP vice president Madan Lal Khurana.

“The GOM have accepted the interim report of the Mashelkar committee,” said Naik.

The Union petroleum ministry will now prepare a note on the subject that will be placed before the cabinet for approval.

The Mashelkar committee had suggested that the government should only prescribe vehicular emission norms and matching fuel specifications, leaving the choice of vehicle type and fuel to the user public.

The government’s decision not to plump for a common fuel for the public transport system — a prospect that had been raised by the sustained campaign by a group of environmentalists to force the use of the so-called clean fuel CNG — will be welcomed in the automobile industry which had been viewing with the development with some alarm since it would force them to incur a cost increase because of the provision of CNG kits.

The CNG drive has been restricted to Delhi for the time being where the local government and the environmentalists have been locked in bruising court battles over the move to force public transport operators in the capital to install the requisite equipment for the use of the clean fuel.

The Supreme Court had extended the deadline for the conversion of the national capital’s entire transport fleet to CNG mode till January 31.

“The Centre will plead for multi-fuel based public transportation system before the Supreme Court as a single fuel system is not viable,” said Naik.

“We will be sending the recommendations to the Cabinet possibly by January 8,” said Naik. “We will send the recommendations to the Supreme Court also.”

The Supreme Court is due to meet on January 8 to hear fresh arguments in related cases.

The Mashelkar committee had recommended that the Euro-II vehicular emission norms should be enforced across the country by April 2005. This will entail an investment of Rs 17,000 crore by the oil refineries.


New Delhi, Jan. 5: 
The World Bank has advised state governments to cap annual pay rises for their employees and slash subsidies as part of a package of reform measures it has suggested to help them fight the war against poverty.

Under international standards, the poverty line is demarcated at a benchmark level of $ 1 per day — which means that anyone who earns less than Rs 48 a day is living in poverty. Going by that definition, 44 per cent of India’s population is still below the poverty line.

The World Bank-ordained reforms package includes tax and expenditure reforms, higher spending on physical and social infrastructure and better fiscal administration.

The tax reform program could include ways to rationalise the tax structure and increase the buoyancy of tax revenues.

The expenditure reform programs should be designed to reduce unproductive and wasteful expenditure and, in the process, slash the unwarranted rapid increase in salaries and subsidies that have been witnessed in recent years.

On the other hand, capital expenditure and spending on maintenance of assets — which have been experiencing shortfalls — must be protected.

The study says the tax machinery should be strengthened, streamlined and simplified in order to check tax evasion and promote tax compliance.

This, it claims, will also help improve the business environment. The committee suggested reforms in budgeting, accounting, internal control and audit, cash and debt management.

Public sector enterprises, particularly State Electricity Boards and State Road Transport Corporations have proved to be a huge drain on states resources. The study suggested that they should be brought under professional management.

It said that if the states are to get back on the path of fiscal sustainability then power sector reforms are necessary where power tariffs should ensure cost recovery and non-payment of dues be suitably handled.

The other most important area of reform is the infrastructure sector which can give a boost to the growth process. However, it suggested enhanced user charges for water, transport and other related services.

The study feels that the most compelling challenge faced by India at present is the poverty reduction as 36 per cent of the total world poor lives in the sub-continent.

About 20 per cent of world’s children who are out of school are in India. The current position of children being enrolled in school is 79 per cent in 1998-99 according to National Family Health Survey.


Calcutta, Jan. 5: 
Trade unions called off the proposed indefinite strike in the jute industry from January 7 following the signing of a new tripartite agreement between the workers, the mill owners and the state government on Saturday.

“A tripartite agreement was signed and trade unions have agreed to call off the strike,” said Mohammand Amin, state labour minister. He said as per the terms of agreement, management has agreed to pay dearness allowance (DA) to the workers immediately.

“The state government will give a letter to the management asking them to pay DA subject to final decision by Calcutta high court,” he said.

Incidentally, one of the jute mills had obtained a stay order on payment of DA citing certain irregularities in calculation of consumer price index.

The owners have agreed to convert 250 “special badli” workers to permanent ones in each mill. Another 250 “registered badli” workers will be given the status of “special badli” workers in each mill.

The minimum wage of the casual workers has been fixed at Rs 100. “Not only this, all the new workers will get a DA of Rs 190 apart from all statutory dues like PF, ESI, house rent and as such even a new worker will get a minimum of Rs 3500 per month,” Amin said.

For the first time in the history of the industry, one-third of the wages has been linked to productivity thereby addressing the long pending demand of the owners.

Indian Jute Mills Association (IJMA) chairman Sanjay Kajaria, who was present in the meeting, said, “With today’s agreement, valid for three years, I think peace will come to industry and all malpractices will come to an end.”

Amin said it was agreed that gratuity would be paid immediately as per the Act and the arrears would be paid at the earliest.


New Delhi, Jan. 5: 
Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd is likely to offer its customers in Delhi and Mumbai the option of routing their STD calls through the Bharti Group’s long-distance telephony operator—Bharti Telesonic—as well as the existing network of Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd.

MTNL is mulling the possibility of signing an interconnection agreement with IndiaOne, Bharti Telesonic’s STD network which begins operations from January 26, to carry its cellular and fixed line calls. STD traffic between Delhi and Mumbai constitutes about 25-30 per cent of the total long-distance calls generated in the country.

“We have been approached by IndiaOne to team up with them. Any decision on this issue will have to be approved by the MTNL board. No time-frame has been set for responding to the proposal,” an MTNL board member said.

Bharti sources said, “We have approached MTNL. The sales presentation has been completed and we would like MTNL to be the first basic service operator to sign up for our service. This will give their customers the option of ‘toggling’ between the two networks depending on their needs.”

Bharti, which launched its IndiaOne brand early this month, has been looking to sign on fixed line telephone operators who will be able to offer the STD services at a 50 per cent discount to the current rates. With prospective STD operators like Reliance Communications, PowerGrid, Videsh Sanchar Nigam and RailTel likely to pick up their licences next year, the rate cuts will truly make the customer the king.

Bharti is also negotiating with other basic operators like Himachal Futuristic Communications Ltd, the fixed line operator in Punjab, Tata Teleservices which runs its service in Andhra Pradesh, Hughes Ispat which offers fixed-line telephony services in Maharashtra, and Shyam Telelink in Rajasthan.

It has already tied up with eight cellular service operators to route mobile-to-mobile STD calls at a rate of Rs 12 per minute during peak hours against the existing rate of Rs 24 per minute. Bharti has also signed up with VSNL to carry international long-distance calls generated by its network.

BSNL recently announced an over 60 per cent cut in peak time STD charges, prompting Bharti to call a meeting of the eight cellular operators who signed in for its service in early January. Reacting to the rate cuts, Bharti Group chairman and managing director Sunil Mittal said, “This was precisely what we wanted. When we announced the 50 per cent cut on mobile-to-mobile calls, we had given a shock treatment to BSNL. It will benefit all subscribers.”

However he was quick to add, “I expect all cellular operators who joined us to remain with us. If any changes are necessary, we will sit together and sort it out. Cellular operators are aware of the relations they have had with BSNL and that is why we expect our customers to stay with us.”


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