SAIL staff may retire early
Mittals mull recast of group firms
Customs plans to trim flab
Bengal to give powermeters to all by 2001
Wipro, Infy cash in on book value
Foreign Exchange, Bullion, Stock Indices

New Delhi, Sept 12: 
Steel Authority of India (SAIL) may be asked to bring down its retirement age to 58, a move that will help it shed 20,000 workers and reduce by half its functional board of directors, including current chairman Arvind Pandey.

Steel minister Braja Kishore Tripathi told The Telegraph that his ministry is considering the move seriously, even though the SAIL board has not made any recommendations till now. �However, there is a Cabinet directive that loss-making PSUs should reduce their retirement age to 58,� he said.

Three major state-owned firms�Air-India, Indian Airlines and ITDC�have already reduced the retirement age of their employees to save on high salary bills. The steel ministry�s argument is that the age-cut proposal should be considered for SAIL as well, given that it is saddled with a 1.6 lakh workforce.

The steel behemoth has sought the government�s permission to introduce a Rs 1,500-crore voluntary retirement scheme to shed 60,000 workers over three years. A plan, based on the Gujarat government model, is currently being worked out.

Ministry officials feel that at least Rs 500 crore can be saved in a stroke if the retirement age is brought down. The age cut would also see Bhilai and Durgapur Steel Plant managing directors, as well the director in charge of SAIL�s restructuring, retiring along with Pandey.

If the proposal goes through, many present directors who are nearing the age of 58 years would have to hang up their boots soon.

The steel minister�s point is that SAIL�s financial woes stem from lumpy loans taken during the 1990s to fund its costly modernisation plan. Hence, it should focus on ways to cut costs.

Tripathi said he planned to expand SAIL�s board by drafting steel experts, economists and top-rung professional managers as non-functional directors. �This is a legal requirement after the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) made it mandatory for companies to include experts. Also, I feel this kind of infusion of talent will help SAIL in its restructuring efforts,� the minister said.

According to Tripathi, SAIL expects an increase of about Rs 400 crore in its wage bill this year in spite of its cost-cutting drive. This will happen because the company will have to wrap up a wage-hike deal that had been delayed because of a cash crunch.

Tripathi said the negotiations will start once SAIL manages to hive off its power plants at Bokaro, Durgapur and Rourkela to National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). �NTPC teams are expected to visit Durgapur soon after which we will start talks with them about selling equity in these plants,� he said.

The company wants to sell controlling stakes in its captive power plants to a strategic partner, and has said it would prefer NTPC. The minister said the PSU power generator has even been given the option of deciding which workers they would like to retain, in an effort to make the deal attractive. Employees who are not taken on board by NTPC will come back to SAIL, and be absorbed in its steel plants.    

Mumbai, Sept 12: 
The Mittals of Ispat Industries are believed to be weighing the options of revamping the management structure of all its group companies by placing greater emphasis on the appointment of professional nominees.

Highly-placed sources close to Ispat said the move could lead to outsiders occupying crucial posts. This is in line with the decision taken by the promoters �to remain as investors in the group� and adhere to the corporate governance code.

Sources said an indication of the implementation of such a policy is in evidence in the case of Hughes in which the Ispat group is a significant shareholder. �The key management personnel in the basic telecom service provider company consists of several professionals. This may be replicated even in other Ispat group companies,� officials said.

Even as the Mittals are weighing the possibility of stying on as mere investors, sources denied any move by the promoters to part with their stake in Ispat Industries Ltd (IIL) or invite a strategic equity partner in the company.

�The talks about inviting a strategic equity partner in IIL is not true. The company is only looking at bringing in more professionals who will take day-to-day management decisions,� officials said. They, however, did not comment on the possibility of a change in the composition of IIL�s board consequent to such a move.

Reports point out that the financial institutions led by the Industrial Development Bank of India (IDBI), which had in the previous year finalised a rehabilitation package for various steel units including IIL, stipulated that these companies must recast their management. In the case of Ispat Industries, IDBI had also asked the company to divest its shareholding in Hughes Consequently, IIL sold a major portion in this company to Ritambara Agents Pvt Ltd (RAPL), a holding company of the Mittals.

IIL currently produces hot rolled coils, sponge iron, cold rolled carbon steel sheets and coils, galvanised plain and corrugated sheets and PVC colour coated sheets. There has been pressure on the margins of the company arising from the bearish trend in the global steel industry.    

Calcutta, Sept 12: 
The customs and central excise department is in a downsizing mode. It plans to shed around 10,000 of its surplus workforce. The downsizing will involve a freeze on recruitment and later a voluntary retirement scheme. According to sources, about 6500 employees will go through natural separation while the remaining 3400 will be offered VRS. The customs and the central excise department currently has 68,673 employees on its rolls.

The manpower restructuring has been envisaged to give the department a more lean and efficient image.

The new HR policy, sources added, will also minimise the incidents of corruption plaguing the department.

The sources further pointed out that the plan will be submitted to the government for its approval very soon.    

Calcutta, Sept 12: 
The West Bengal State Electricity Board (WBSEB) has approached the Power Finance Corporation (PFC) for a Rs 718 crore loan.

The money will be utilised to implement 100 per cent metering of its consumers, which will be carried out in two phases. In the first phase, 100 per cent metering up to 11 KV outgoing feeders to sub-stations and all high tension consumers will be completed by March 2001.

In the second phase, to be completed by December 2001, the SEB will provide 100 per cent metering to all its consumers.

Talking to The Telegraph, WBSEB chairman G.D. Gautama said the move towards 100 per cent metering follows the recent meeting with Union power secretary A.K. Basu, who urged all state power utilities to provide 100 per cent metering at the earliest. PFC managing director Uddesh Kohli was also present at the meeting.

The board has also decided to stop providing unmetered connections to any consumer. �The board has already issued a notice in this regard,� an official said.

The WBSEB, which has 429 power sub-stations and over 75,000 distribution sub-stations within its fold, supplies power to over 32.5 lakh consumers of different categories�domestic, commercial, industrial, agriculture and public utilities. Out of this, about 3.5 lakh consumers have not been provided with proper meters.

PFC will provide the necessary finance for the metering scheme under the accelerated generation and supply programme (AG&SP). WBSEB will be entitled to four per cent interest subsidy. The board applied for the loan a week back.

Gautama said that the PFC is expected to process the loan application and sanction it within 15-30 days.

The PFC, Central Electricity Authority and WBSEB are now short-listing vendors for supplying meters. �The short-listing of vendors will be completed by the end of September,� Gautama said.

He said that WBSEB has already appointed a nodal officer, as advised by the CEA, who will monitor the installation of meters.

�Full-fledged metering will enable us to check revenue losses. This will also help us to put a check on the transmission and distribution losses,� Gautama added.

Power theft is a major area of concern for the WBSEB.

In the period May-August, the SEB has conducted raids in 912 cases and 148 people have been arrested.

�We have been able to dehook 38,960 illegal connections,� Gautama said.    

New Delhi, Sept 12: 
Stock options, flexible timings and a casual dress code have long ceased to be the stuff that most information technology dreams are made of.

New age companies like Infosys and Wipro are giving the cool dudes that, and much more.

While most tech firms keep their employees in good humour with the requisite perks, the big two are keeping the little �uns happy. Both Infosys and Wipro have found a novel way to retain their flock � through the world of books.

S. Laxminarayan, managing director of L.B Publishers which markets educational books for children from Time Life, said their books have been well received by these corporates.

�We were invited to conduct workshops at the various tech campuses and we have received a very good response from the employees. Companies like Infosys and Wipro are providing an opportunity for parents to access products and services useful for the family,� he said.

However, when it comes to funding the books, employees cannot hope to receive any assistance from their employers.

�All the orders were given by individuals,� he added.

Given the prices of the books however, employees could do with some help. For example, a set of five books along with five audio cassettes of A Children�s First Library of Values would cost about Rs 3300. �The upper limit for some series could be anything between Rs 75,000-80,000,� said Laxminarayan.

The effort to sell books through corporates commenced about two years ago, but the concept has picked up momentum recently. �We are quite sure that sales through corporates will slowly pick up,� Laxminarayan added. Currently, Time-Life books are sold directly and L.B. Publishers hopes to achieve a turnover of Rs 100 crore in the next five years. �We hope to add at least one lakh new families to our fold every year,� he added.

The market for books is expected to grow at about 20 per cent.

Despite the Net invasion, Time Life still believes that books would never go out of circulation. Time Life Asia�s editorial director, Kate Nussey said, �Books will never become outdated. The internet can be used as an information retrieval tool. One can introduce books to a one-year-old. But cannot introduce the Net so early. Also, one learns to look after books, which is very important.�

Time Life is also scouting for opportunities to publish books in Indian languages. Recently the company introduced Urdu language books for the Pakistan market. �We are not new to language publishing and we will look for suitable opportunities here,� she added. Presently, India is the second largest market for Time Life English books in Asia, after Taiwan.    

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