Agrani may reach out wider
Reliance refinery capacity hits 30 mt
Four in race for SAIL oxygen plant in Bhilai
Nepal dresses for Indian summer

Mumbai, May 21 
The Subhash Chandra-owned ASC Enterprises, the company that is launching the high-stakes Agrani project, is considering the pros and cons of going retail by setting up call centres across the country. These outlets will offer an entire range of services such as cellular and cable connections.

Senior company officials said developments on this front are only at a preliminary conceptual stage but indicated that expanding the reach of Agrani�s services to the largest possible pool of consumers through these centres is a serious option. �A lot of things are being planned for Agrani. One strong possibility is the opening of centres where one can not only get Agrani cellular phones, but also buy cable and DTO connections,� sources close to ASC Enterprises disclosed.

The wide array of services to be offered at Agrani�s planned call centres can be subsumed under the TIMES concept, now being stressed over and over again by media magnate Chandra. Also an embodiment of the company�s business ethos, the TIMES acronym, when expanded, stands for technology, internet, media, entertainment and social responsibility.

Even as ASC Enterprises draws up big plans for reaching out through the call centres, the immediate concern for ASC Enterprises is to get the much-delayed Agrani off the ground.

The project will provide mobile communications not only for users in India, but also in neighbouring countries like Nepal, Bangladesh and Bhutan. Besides, Agrani will also include a KU band facility, which will be used to offer direct-to-home transmissions. Since it will carry television signals, the project will have tremendous synergy and common links with the broad-based operations of Zee Telefilms.

The financial closure for Agrani, held up for quite a while now, is expected to be achieved within the next couple of months. The project � a regional multi-mission geo-stationary satellite system � waiting for financial institutions (FIs) to disburse funds to the tune of Rs 125 crore. Once this money is released, the total contribution of FIs and banks will increase to over Rs 1,400 crore in the Rs 3,170-crore project.

While FIs and banks have committed around Rs 1,275 crore, Chandra has pumped in $ 80 million into the project. Other promoters which will contribute to the project are VSNL, which is pumping in $ 50 million and Lockheed Martin which is investing an equal amount.    

New Delhi, May 21 
The Jamnagar-based 27 million tonne per annum refinery of Reliance Petroleum (RPL), commissioned last year, has established an annual crude throughput capacity of 30 million tonnes.

According to petroleum industry sources, RPL refinery processed 6 lakh barrels of oil daily on certain days last month. This works out to an annual capacity of 30 million tonnes.

RPL�s intention was simply to establish the capacity for the time being and not to produce at this high rate. The present domestic demand does not permit it to enhance the capacity utilisation immediately.

Sources say RPL is in a position to further enhance the capacity by another five million tonnes per annum by de-bottlenecking the main columns. Thus, without any significant fresh investment, RPL�s capacity will go up to 35 million tonnes.

As per the marketing agreement with Indian Oil, Reliance Petroleum is not expected enhance the refining capacity by setting up a new train till 2004. RPL may not violate this condition.

However, nothing prevents it from constructing the new train well before 2004 so that the capacity could be put into operation as soon as the stipulated time limit is over.

Industry circles are speculating that the ultimate capacity of RPL refinery could go up to 50 million tonnes per annum.    

Calcutta, May 21 
The Steel Authority of India (SAIL) has received bids from four multinational companies to build the oxygen unit in the Bhilai Steel Plant. These companies are BOC India, Praxair, Messers Germany and Inox Air Products.

A senior SAIL official, while confirming the development, said all four companies were keen becoming a strategic partner in BSP�s oxygen plant.

�We hope to finalise the process of shortlisting bidders by the end of this month,� the official said, adding that the shortlisted companies would be asked to produce the relevant documents by July.

SAIL is keen to form the strategic partnership with the prospective company by August this year as it will help the loss-making public sector steel conglomerate show a �reasonably good� balance-sheet for the current financial year.

While the official refused to specify the asset value of the oxygen plant, sources said it would be in the range of Rs 300-Rs 400 crore.

SAIL has already formed a wholly-owned subsidiary� Bhilai Oxygen Ltd � to which the assets of the BSP�s oxygen plant will be transferred. The company has appointed SBI Capital Markets and Dresdner Kleinwort Benson as consultants for this purpose. The BSP�s captive oxygen plant has three units, each with a capacity of 550 tonnes daily.

SAIL sources said the new company, once operational, will be able to meet not only SAIL�s oxygen demand on a long-term basis but will also help the company raise money by selling industrial gases to other companies. SAIL is expected to retain a 51 per cent stake in the company after the divestment process in the steel major is completed.

Hiving off the BSP�s oxygen plant into a joint venture company has been a part of SAIL�s major business restructuring plan, which also includes a divestment in seven areas.

While SAIL has approved the business restructuring plan at a recent extra-ordinary general meeting, the employees� unions have reacted sharply against the proposal. These unions, cutting across party affiliations, have demanded that the proposal be dumped.

SAIL, however, has turned down the demand and has allegedly made a proposal that links the resumption of the next round of wage negotiations to the acceptance of the business restructuring plan.

� Even after the financial restructuring, SAIL has a loan burden of more than Rs 15,000 crore. We need funds to service the huge loan burden, and hence, this restructuring programme is crucial for the company�s survival,� the official said.    

Kathmandu, May 21 
The snow-clad Himalayan ranges, the resplendent Hindu and Buddhist shrines, the smoke-filled casinos or the markets full of imported merchandise. Nepal has always had them, but they do not attract Indian tourists any more.

The week-long hijack ordeal aboard Indian Airlines IC-814 has almost grounded those in India who would just hop across the border to savour the delights of the Mountain Kingdom.

Fear is the familiar enemy of tourism. Nepal is realising that. The eight-day hijack in December last year has hit the country�s tourism in a big way; arrivals have declined 7.09 per cent.

The biggest blow has come from India, from where the number of tourists have declined by 37.21 per cent this year. Last year, around 37,261 tourists travelled from India by air to Nepal in the first four months. In the same time this year, the number was down to 23,395.

�While there has been a 5 per cent increase in tourists from western countries, the number from India has fallen dramatically. This is mainly because the Indian government has stopped all flights to the country,� says Pradeep Raj Pandey, CEO of Nepal Tourism Board and one of the many in this country who feels the pinch. It�s not difficult to understand the pain given that Indians remain the maninstay of Nepal�s tourism, making up 32 per cent of the total arrivals.

Nepal almost lives off tourism. As the backbone of its economy, it contributes 3.5 per cent to the country�s gross domestic product (GDP). More important, 14 per cent of the country�s foreign exchange earnings come from tourism. The losses in revenue resulting from the fall in the number of Indian tourists is estimated at a staggering $ 15 million.

However, the damage has prompted a repair job. The Nepal Tourism Board, for instance, is planning to focus on India. A 10-week extensive promotional exercise to improve the image of the country has been lined up at a cost of Rs 1.2 crore.

An ad campaign �Mt Everest & More. Experience it in Nepal� created by Rediffusion DY&R will be launched to project the country as a fun destination in south Asia.

�The campaign will reinforce the message that Indians get special incentives and privileges in Nepal, no visa requirements, foreign currency, trekking rates and special hotel and travel packages,� says Pandey. The board will also interact with tour operators and participate in travel and trade fairs to sell the country. It is also planning to set up a portal soon with the help of the Singapore Tourism Board.

However, the main issue is access. With only the Royal Nepal Airlines flying to India, Pandey said there is a need for more flights. �We hope Indian Airlines will resume operations by June,� he said. Four check points have been set up at the Kathmandu airport as part of the efforts to beef up security. A new sterilised departure area is in place. Renovation is under way. Officials say money will not be a problem when it comes to security.

International hotel chains like Grand Hyatt, Marriott, Meridian and Oberoi have zoomed in on Nepal. Nepal may have been down but there is a lot to prove it�s not out. It still remains one of the hottest getaways around.    


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