VSNL set to launch broadband service
Bengal to set up chemicals industry park
Good tidings for SBI city forex cell
Tea party for better ties with Pakistan

Calcutta, Feb. 3: 
Videsh Sanchar Nigam Ltd (VSNL), the largest internet service provider in the country, is set to launch its broadband service.

This will help the public sector telecom carrier to provide internet services and television channels through cable at a moderate charge.

Confirming the move, VSNL director (operations) Amitabh Kumar said a subscriber would have to pay around Rs 350 per month for unlimited internet access as well as round-the-clock TV channels.

This will save a huge amount of money for a subscriber in terms of telephone bill. The one time cost will be to procure set top boxes required to access these services.

In order to make the facility more customer friendly, the company is planning to provide set top boxes on lease to subscribers.

�The set top boxes are costly and because of that their marketability is very low. But we can provide these boxes to the subscribers at a monthly rental of as little as Rs 300,� Kumar said.

Kumar, however, refused to name the company from which it will source the boxes.

VSNL has already taken a step towards DTH (direct-to-home) services by launching M-Crypt, the first ever digital uplinking system in the country.

Kumar assured that the facility will be far more competitive in pricing and highly efficient in service. The company has started discussions with major satellite channels in order to market the facility. Only the encrypted channels, however, will be able to use this facility.

Once VSNL is ready with Ku-band, Kumar said, the services will be broadened. The services could be accessed even where the cable network is absent, he added.

�Content development is not our core area. Our strength is infrastructure, which we are developing at this moment. But at the same time, our effort is to get most of the major channels in our system � Kumar said.

For the M-Crypt facility, the company has tied up with Irdeto for technology, which, according to Kumar, provides highly efficient utilisation of transponders space with much lower uplinking cost.

Commenting on the launch of digital facilities and conditional access, VSNL chairman S.K. Gupta said �The broadcasting market in India will see a major change and the company expects this new trend will gather strength and recreate India as a premier uplinking country in the Asia-Pacific region.�

VSNL is unfazed by the government�s proposed dilution of 25 per cent stake in the company.

�Ours is a professionally managed company and it does not matter much, at least now, as to who is the promoter. I don�t think there will be any adverse impact on our business strategy,� a senior VSNL official said on condition of anonymity.

The official said Reliance and Bharti are believed to be in the race for the government�s stake in VSNL.

Conservative estimates have put the company�s valuation at Rs 5,000 crore.


Calcutta, Feb. 3: 
The West Bengal government plans to set up a mega chemicals industry park, almost the size of a township, to encourage new investments in chemicals and pharmaceutical sectors. �We have submitted a proposal to the Union government sometimes back and it has not yet been cleared,� state commerce and industry secretary Jawahar Sarkar today said.

Taking advantage of the presence of Union minister of state for chemicals and fertilisers Satyabrata Mukherjee at a function organised by Bengal Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sarkar said fast clearance of the proposal at an early date will help the state government�s initiative of bringing in new investment.

Sarkar, however, disagreed with Mookherjee�s observation that chemicals and fertilisers units in Bengal face bleak prospects.

At an interaction with local industrialists, Mookherjee listed the number of closed and sick public sector fertiliser and pharmaceuticals units in the state.


Calcutta, Feb. 3: 
The State Bank of India may bring back 50 per cent of its foreign exchange business to the city.

The management today gave an assurance to its employees that the city may handle at least half of the bank�s forex business.

Though the management entered into an agreement on January 12 last year to split the forex business of the bank equitably (50 per cent) between the dealing room of the foreign department, Calcutta and the treasury room Mumbai, but in reality Calcutta handles much less.

Both the State Bank of India Officers� Association and SBI Staff Association had made several representations to the management on the issue.

The bank�s management is now working out a solution. P. K. Sarkar, deputy managing director, and Indrajit Gupta, general manager (foreign department), today convened a meeting with the unions for the purpose. The management said it will find means to get 50 per cent of the business of the foreign exchange department back in the city. The management will soon convey the steps being taken in this regard, a member of the SBI Officers� Association said.

SBI�s total forex turnover from February 1, 2000, to January 31, 2001, stood at $ 1,35,628 million. Of this, interbank dealings are to the tune of $ 98,198 million and merchant (corporate) dealings are $ 37,430 million.

According to internal calculations, the Mumbai treasury has handled inter-bank transactions worth $ 85,535 million and merchant dealings to the tune of $ 7,896 million, while the Calcutta foreign department handled $ 12,663 million inter-bank dealings and $ 29534 million merchant dealings. The figure indicates that Mumbai has handled almost 68.88 per cent of the total business, with Calcutta handling the rest.

Employees of the Calcutta office alleged the city is handling more cross currency transactions and less dollar-rupee transactions. Mumbai, they said, is getting more dollar-rupee transactions since the rate of the dollar is being quoted by Mumbai first. �The market is, therefore, going to them,� a senior representative of the SBI Staff Association said.


New Delhi, Feb. 3: 
It�s track II diplomacy at its best. They are not trained diplomats or statesmen, but mere tea traders.

But with them the Indian government hopes to further ease the Indo-Pak relationship which General Pervez Musharaf�s disaster relief diplomacy has brought about.

India�s hand at trade diplomacy is being played by a delegation from the Calcutta-based Indian Tea Association led by Rama S Jhawar of Exide Industries.

Ostensibly going to Pakistan to try sell more tea to our neighbours, the delegation will use the time to push Pakistan to give India preferential tariff which it is entitled to under South Asian trade pacts. Jhawar�s team which includes top tea companies�Williamson Magor, McLeod Russel, Warren and Assam Frontier Tea�has been given appropriate pep talks by Indian commerce secretary Prabir Sengupta.

If Pakistan agrees to go along with India�s track II initiative, both Indian business as well as south Asian peace will gain.


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