Sinha sees over 6% growth
Arbitrators to look into telecom rows
Push for Pure Drinks recast
Bengal move to pay NTPC dues
Hughes Softclose to royalty deal with US firm

New Delhi, Feb 5 
Finance Minister Yashwant Sinha today asserted that economic growth this fiscal would be more than 6 per cent, as against a 5.9 per cent growth rate estimated by the Central Statistical Organisation (CSO) yesterday.

�The GDP growth will be more than 6 per cent,� Sinha told newspersons on the sidelines of a seminar on �Smuggling and Drug Trafficking,� organised by the finance ministry.

Admitting that agricultural growth will see a slump, Sinha, however, added that industry is expected to perform much better.

He said with exports gathering steam, it will have a positive effect on domestic production and consequently on growth in the current fiscal. However, he was quick to add that he was not disputing the CSO estimates.

The CSO had yesterday released its estimates putting the growth of the economy at 5.9 per cent this fiscal, as against 6.8 per cent recorded in 1998-99, mainly due to a slump in agriculture growth.

CSO had said that a low GDP rate would be due to a dismal 0.8 per cent growth in the agriculture sector, as compared to a 7.2 per cent rate last year, despite a 7 per cent growth in the manufacturing sector.

However, Sinha was also optimistic of agriculture staging a recovery riding on adequate and timely rainfall. He pointed out that foodgrain production has exceeded 200 million tonnes.

�It is a fact that growth in the agriculture sector always pushes the economy ahead,� he added.

Core sector industry is poised for a good growth, Sinha said, adding that credit offtake by the cement sector was to the tune of 60 per cent.

Regarding increased borrowings during the second half of the current fiscal, Sinha said a cut in borrowing would ultimately depend on fiscal deficit.

Earlier, delivering the keynote address Sinha said that the Prevention of Money Laundering Bill is likely to be passed in the coming budget session.

He said the Bill is currently before the select committee and improvements suggested by the committee will be incorporated in it.    

New Delhi, Feb 5 
In a move aimed at sprucing up its dispute settlement mechanism and addressing the grievances of telecom companies, the Telecom Commission has approved the appointment of arbitrators in all circles.

The Telecom Commission has directed the heads of all nine telecom circles to �review the existing arbitration mechanism, including the system of appointments of arbitrators, so as to enhance the confidence of our investors, suppliers and clients in our dispute settlement mechanism.�

The commission has also asked the heads of the circles to submit the revised proposal regarding the appointment of arbitrators, by the first week of March.

Leading telecom manufacturers welcomed the commission�s move.

�It was one of our long standing demands. Earlier, the system of providing information for the settlement of disputes not only delayed quick solutions but also increased costs. We had to wait for a clearance from the department of telecommunications (DoT) before it was received by circle heads,� said a leading telecom manufacturer.

Sources in the Telecom Commission said, �This is part of the decision to provide more powers to heads of telecom circles. A move to further empower the circle chiefs is afoot.�

The commission has also approved the new National Frequency Allocation Plan 2000 (NFAP). This would enable the government to allocate the frequency spectrum to different telecom services.

The need for the allocation of a new frequency spectrum had become inevitable due to the evolution of new technologies like cellular phones, satellite television and broadband-based internet services.

Telecom Commission sources said, �Only 20 gigahertz of the total frequency spectrum is available for practical uses, against an estimated 400 gigahertz available with the country. Efficient utilisation of wireless technology will lead to the convergence of technology.�    

New Delhi, Feb 5 
The Singh brothers have appointed S B Billimoria & Co and Bansi S Mehta & Co to restructure a loss-laden, faction-ridden Pure Drinks � makers of the Campa range of soft drinks.

The decision follows a memorandum signed between the owners of Pure Drinks � Satwant Singh and Ajit Singh and Harjeet Kaur in August. The agreement says the company must appoint a consultant to identify viable assets and those which can be put on the block.

The consultants will sort out disputes related to accounts and balance-sheets, besides helping the company draw up a list of movable and immovable property that could be sold or leased to reduce liabilities. They will also identify assets with a potential to remain profitable.

The consultants also have to take stock of some idle property worth Rs 300 crore in cities like Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai and New Delhi. The Calcutta plant has a bottling capacity of 220 bottles per minute while the one in Mumbai can turn out 600. Both plants had to down shutters more than five years ago after they faced labour unrest sparked by job cuts.

The retrenchments were a response to the sharp fall in Campa-Cola sales after the company lost market-share to Parle�s Thums Up and Limca in a bruising cola battle. The head-office and plants at New Delhi remain closed temporarily owing to non-payment of salaries and other dues worth Rs 15 crore to over 400 employees.

Later, a Supreme Court order on phasing out commercial vehicles more than 15 years old, left the company�s distribution network in disarray. The order made 40 of its 100 delivery-vehicles useless.

The company suffered losses of Rs 13 crore in 1998, up from Rs 8 crore in 1997. The balance-sheet of 1999 could not be prepared as the head-office was shut down.    

Calcutta, Feb 5 
With the National Thermal Power Corporation once again shooting off a notice to clear dues, the West Bengal State Electricity Board has swung into action to pay back the past arrears of the corporation. The Bengal SEB has already started negotiations with banks and financial institutions to raise funds through bonds to make the payment.

On Thursday last, NTPC issued a notice to Bengal to clear dues worth Rs 1188 crore by March, failing which it will start regulating the power supply.

WBSEB has instructed its member (finance) A.K. Das to �approach the FIs on state government guaranteed bonds, assess their initial response and report back to the board of directors to enable them to take a decision on a bond float.�

The board has already indicated in a report that it will be able to service its bonds from internal revenue generation. However given the condition of its balance sheet, WBSEB may find it difficult to attract investors for its bond issue. The primary duty of Das is to assess whether there is any market for SEB bonds.

A senior SEB official said, �NTPC must recognise that it is not possible for the board to pay up immediately. The securitisation programme proposed in November had got stuck at the central government level. Therefore we are now pursuing the bond route which was an option considered earlier.�

Given the financial situation of the WBSEB where it is making losses in the region of Rs 2.5 crore a day, it is important for the board to assess whether there will be any buyers for its bonds.

WBSEB has been fighting NTPC�s threats for quite some time now. The Farakka plant of the central power utility was shut down in 1998 due to the dues payment dispute.

Again last year when NTPC threatened to issue an ultimatum, state finance minister Asim Dasgupta intervened and tried to work out a patchup formula. He, however, could do little and NTPC issued a supply-cut notice in October.    

Mumbai, Feb 5 
Hughes Software Systems is set to clinch a deal with a leading US-based internet service provider (ISP) for its �Swift Bill� blockbuster product.

We are still working on the modalities whether to charge a royalty or lease its services to an ISP, Manoranjan Mohapatra, vice-president of Hughes Software said.

Swift Bill enables companies to avoid cost on postage and billing. Even, if we get a portion of the 35 cents incurred on posting a bill, we can earn a good income from the tieup, he said.

This apart, HSS launched �Right Serve� in November last year, the country�s maiden service for targeted internet advertising. �Right Serve� provides the advertiser with total control to define a relevant and interested audience, targets banners at the select audience and measures the effectiveness of the campaign in real time.

Unlike other infotech companies, Hughes is focusing on communication related software.    


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