Vajpayee vows to trim bloated bureaucracy
Focus on labour laws
Jalan rules out rate cut
Smuggling in jute sacks
Brand prophet hawks ideas to techies

New Delhi, Dec 16: 
The Centre is planning to bring in a new golden handshake package to cut its bloated bureaucracy by at least 10 per cent over the next three years.

Addressing Ficci�s annual general session, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee said, �non productive expenditure of the government continues to be a source of worry (and) it is linked to the question of downsizing of the government.�

The Prime Minister made these remarks after launching a surprise attack on the bureaucracy for delaying reforms. �All four different governments (through the 1990s) have pursued the reforms agenda...All of them, however, have been disappointed at the slow pace with which decisions get translated into actions,� he said.

�The government machinery shows no sense of urgency,� he pointed out. However, he made it clear that power sector reforms would be pushed forward and said that a meeting of state chief ministers would be convened to work out a minimum programme.

Vajpayee also promised project specific solutions for privately owned power plants.

The Prime Minister also admitted the need to overhaul labour laws. He was responding to suggestions from Ficci president G.P. Goenka that contract labour be allowed.

�The inflexibility of labour laws hinder new employment though they may provide protection to the existing labour force,� Vajpayee said.

But at the same time, the Prime Minster made it clear that he expected the industry to get its act together

�There are companies that have taken money from shareholders, banks and financial institutions and misused it,� he said.

Many were still laggards in cutting costs and improving quality. And �except for pharmaceuticals, few companies have invested 4-5 per cent on research and development to create world class products and processes,� he told the gathering of industry captains who have for long been clamouring for sops and government help against a rising tide of imports.

Vajpayee also called on Indian companies to adopt high standards of transparency, disclosure and corporate governance to sustain investor and shareholders confidence, implicitly telling them they were still not near the desired level.

Earlier, Goenka articulated domestic industry�s worries about the rising tide of imports and their inability to meet the challenge by saying that �the effects on the country would be reminiscent of colonial exploitation; of India�s surpluses flowing out to the rest of the world without commensurate inflow of profit.�

The Ficci chief who will be handing over th reigns of the chamber to Alembic chairman Chirayu R. Amin tomorrow once again raised the demand for �level playing field�, pleading that power, manpower and borrowing costs be allowed to come down.

�Let it not happen that we ever feel like a walnut in a nut cracker, wherein prices continually fall but costs constantly rise,� Goenka said.


New Delhi, Dec 16: 
With Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee today indicating that the second generation of reforms will begin with the government, the Centre is readying to touch the sensitive issue of labour reform.

The Union minister for law, justice and company affairs, Arun Jaitley, said the direction had been set by the Prime Minister and it was only a matter of time before the Centre got working on labour legislation.

Jaitley was responding to a questions from businessman K K Modi and Vir Sanghvi, the moderator in a panel discussion at the 73rd annual general meet of Ficci, on whether the government was willing to make a time-bound commitment on labour reform.

This morning, at the inaugural, the Prime Minister said the next burst of reforms will largely focus on the government where the Centre will begin by cutting surplus staff by 10 per cent and introducing a voluntary retirement scheme.


New Delhi, Dec 16: 
Reserve Bank of India governor Bimal Jalan today ruled out any further reduction in interest rates, stating it had already softened by 15 to 20 basis points.

Jalan who was here to attend Ficci�s annual general session as a guest speaker, told newspersons that �there has been some softening�15-20 basis points. Ideally we want to see much more but that is not possible given the macro fundamentals.�

The central bank, as part of its credit policy, would endeavour to bring cost of borrowing down in the medium to long term, Jalan said but reiterated that its its hands are tied in the short run.

In the short-term, the RBI governor said, the interest rate environment remained positive and �we expect it to remain so�.

Earlier in the day, both industrialists and Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had complained that interest rates were on the higher side with industry leaders complaining that their borrowing costs were far higher than countries they were competing with in the global market.

�Contrary to expectations market conditions are very favourable now,� he said. Jalan was implicitly answering industry�s complaints that it faced a tight credit market which was not conducive to growth.

Jalan pointed out that �(monetary) liquidity is good and will remain so. We expect no problems in the short-term (so far as) financial liquidity, credit and interest rates are concerned.�

The RBI governor said the central bank had, so far, mopped up over Rs 80,000 crore of the budgeted Rs 1,17,000 crore borrowing for 2000-01.

Jalan also said the foreign currency assets, which declined by $ 2.46 billion in the first six months, had �increased after the India Millennium Deposit (IMD) inflows.�    

Calcutta, Dec 16: 
The virtual barter trade on the India-Bangladesh borders in Malda, Murshidabad and Dinajpur is threatening the country�s jute industry. Trucks loaded with sugar, salt and assorted commodities make their way to Bangladesh and they return with jute sacks which find ready buyers in upper India. The unofficial trade has forced city-based importers of Bangladeshi jute goods out of business.

Local mills and gunny trade are also in disarray following the cheap supply of smuggled jute bags.

According to trade estimates, at least 15 trucks loaded with Bangladeshi B.Twill and A.Twill bags enter India daily through Kaliachak and Hilli borders in north Bengal and ultimately to UP, Punjab and Haryana, where production at the sugar mills is in full swing. It is also the peak procurement season for both rice and wheat.

Trade sources said that B.Twill bags, used for packing foodgrains, are being quoted at Rs 20 a piece. With a 20 per cent import duty the Bangladeshi variety also costs the same.

Similar is the case with A.Twill bags used for packing sugar. The domestic variety of A.Twill costs about Rs 27 a bag. Bangladeshi price is much lower at Rs 21 but when 20 per cent import duty is added the price comes to almost the same level. Against this the sacks smuggled from Bangladesh come cheaper by Rs 2 to Rs 4 a piece and private sugar mills and agencies lap these up at the cost of domestic varieties.


New Delhi, Dec 16: 
Al Ries, the prophet of brands, who has become a best selling brand himself, has urged Indian software talents, to build high-tech brands, and not just confine themselves to software services.

The internationally best selling author of �The 22 immutable laws of branding,� speaking here at a seminar organised by on branding, said, �Indians are doing fabulous work in the Silicon Valley, they have enormous talent...then why not build brands in India?�

He said that the difference between US and India is that the former builds brands and the latter is happy at only providing services.

India is best suited for intellectual business, he said, but the focus has to be narrowed down to successful brands. In fact focusing is the name of the game for Ries. He said brands need to contract and focus on their area of specialisation rather than expand unsystematically, trying to sell everything and losing the very image and value for which they stand.

�Do not destroy the brand in the mind of the consumer,� cautioned Ries.

Comparing the US economy with the Japanese one, he said that most Japanese companies are relatively unprofitable as most of them are unfocussed with �everybody making everything and nobody building a brand.�

For Laura Ries, daughter of Al Ries and president of Ries and Ries, it is publicity as opposed to advertising which is helping build great brands. �This publicity is derived not because people are talking about that brand but the new category they had managed to create,� she said.

Laura�s dictum for seeking this publicity, �It is better to be first in something you do, than to do it better than someone.�

Carrying her logic further, she says, �If you can�t be first, set up a new category.�

Advertising continues to remain relevant, she said, but only for maintaining the brand identity which is to be created first through publicity that establishes the credentials of the brand.

Laura, who has co-authored both �22 immutable laws of branding� and �The 11 immutable laws of internet branding� with Al Ries, carries her logic with examples. �Rolex was not the first watch but they created a successful category as a expensive watch. Likewise Swatch became a fashion watch.�

Al Ries remarked that apart from being the latest medium of mass communication, the internet has heralded the third retail revolution. The second he pointed out as the concept of self service which has now become all too pervasive in supermarkets, drug stores, gasoline stations, ATM machines of banks, fast food outlets, et al.

Of course, the first retail revolution that happened is a word that�s very dear to both Al and Laura Ries. It is called branding.


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