Grand plan to feed hungry millions
LIC to take on rivals with Bima Plus
Sun, Pradeep Drug may merge

Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
The software boom and the dotcom bust later, food�or rather, the lack of it�still dominates the real world. For all its prowess in the software arena, India is saddled with more than five crore hungry mouths, besides another 36 crore who live below the poverty line, all outside the sweep of the internet revolution.

The government is drawing up the blueprint for a scheme to provide succour to the hungry millions, which may well be the first of its kind in the country. Come March, and the government will roll out the �Antyodaya Ann Yojana,� which is designed to provide people below the poverty line with wheat at a price of Rs 2 per kg and rice at Rs 3 per kg.

Addressing a press conference here today, Union food minister Shanta Kumar said today the government will spend an additional Rs 2,300 crore on this account.

�We are in the process of identifying the five crore hungry mouths; by the end of February, we hope to be able to identify at least a crore. That means by March, we will be in a position to start the scheme,� he said.

Also in the pipeline is Annapurna, a scheme to provide 10 kg of foodgrain to people above 65 years of age, free of cost.

Further, the Centre has decided to provide foodgrain at half the price to states which start food-for-work schemes.

Kumar said the scheme will target about 40 lakh people in West Bengal, involving an expenditure of Rs 184 crore.

Reacting to allegations raised by representatives of the Executive Staff Union of the Food Corporation of India that foodgrain in the state are being destroyed due to non-availability of storage facilities, Kumar said the government will look into the matter.

The minister said the government wants to put in place a flawless public distribution system. �The states will only get a subsidy if they can submit documents of actual utilisation of foodgrain,� he said.

The government will shortly come up with a new foodgrain policy. A committee headed by Prof Abhijit Sen, Jawaharlal Nehru University, has been constituted to work out the policy framework and will submit its report within three months.


Calcutta, Feb. 10: 
Moving away from the conventional secured-return policies, Life Insurance Corporation will launch �Bima Plus,� a ten-year capital market-linked insurance plan, which offers higher returns, relative security and life cover to policy holders.

The scheme, scheduled to be launched on Monday, is meant to pre-empt the challenge from over a dozen new life and non-life players waiting to grab a share of the insurance pie, hitherto the sole preserve of the public sector.

The Bima Plus policy, essentially targeted at the urban population, has been drawn up on the lines of the most popular and widely subscribed life insurance schemes in developed countries.

Under the scheme, a portion of the premium fund is to be invested in equity and debt instruments in the capital market. Policy holders will have the option of channelling a proportion of their premia into equity, debt and liquid instruments under three categories -- secured fund, balanced fund and risk fund � which carry varying degrees of risk.

The premium for the ten-year term policy will not be indexed to age. Policy holders from 12 years to 55 years can make a one-time payment, besides half-yearly or annual instalments. The minimum sum assured under the policy is fixed at Rs 50,000 and the maximum is at Rs 200,000.

Initially, the policy will be marketed by 78 centres out of LIC�s 2048-strong branch network.

LIC�s eastern zonal manager O.P. Dubey noted that as per the Insurance Regulatory Development Authority�s (IRDA) diktat, the fund collected from the scheme is to be kept separately for market operations. The centres through which the policy are marketed will be restricted so that the funds can be transferred on a daily basis, Dubey said.

The premium amount under the policy is to be broken into units of Rs 10 each and the net asset-value (NAV) of the fund will be computed every week.

Dubey said the premium fund under the policy in the eastern region is expected to be about Rs 10 crore by the end of March.


Mumbai, Feb. 10: 
Sun Pharmaceutical, owned by the Shanghvi family, is planning to merge the Chennai-based Pradeep Drug company with itself. The Sun board will be meeting on February 17 to take a final decision.

In a communication sent to the stock exchanges today, Sun Pharma said the board will meet on February 17 to �consider the viability of merger/amalgamation of Pradeep Drug.�

Sun Pharma, a leading player in the psychiatry, cardio-vascular, gastroenterology, and neurology segments, has been on an acquisition spree over the past four years. It began in 1996 when Sun acquired the Ahmednagar plant of Knoll Pharmaceuticals Ltd. Later that year it picked up a stake in Caraco Pharmaceutical Laboratories. It also made two open offers for MJ Pharmaceuticals Ltd (which manufactures injectibles, bulk drugs, orals) and Gujarat Lyka Organics which produces bulk drugs, semi-synthetic penicillins and cephalosporins.

In 1997, Sun took over Tamilnadu Dada Pharmaceuticals Ltd (TDPL) and followed it up by acquiring few brands from the Hyderabad-based Natco Pharma.

The Dadha-owned Pradeep Drug, on the other hand, has not been doing well over the past couple of years. During the year ended March 1999, the company showed a loss of Rs 1.43 crore on sales of Rs 21.05 crore.


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