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Consensus eludes EPF meet
Next round of talks on August 9 as impasse continues
New Delhi, July 20
A meeting of the Central Board of Trustees has been fixed August 9 for finalising the interest rates for three crore provident fund (PF) subscribers, as a consensus could not be evolved at today’s meeting. “There was no consensus and the EPF board would meet again on August 9 to discuss the issue,” CBT member and CITU secretary W R Varadarajan said.
In video (28k, 56k)

Union Labour Minister Sis Ram Ola shakes hand with CITU representative W.R. Varadarajan at the 169th meeting of the Central Board of Trustees of Employees Provident Fund

Union Labour Minister Sis Ram Ola (right) shakes hand with CITU representative W.R. Varadarajan at the 169th meeting of the Central Board of Trustees of Employees Provident Fund (EPF) in New Delhi on Tuesday.
— PTI photo

Rollback of oil prices ruled out
New Delhi, July 20
The government today informed the Rajya Sabha that it had no plans to roll back last month’s increase in prices of petrol, diesel and LPG and said a policy of pricing of major petroleum products was under review.

FDI hike bad tactics: CPI
New Delhi, July 20
The CPI today said the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram should not have proposed a hike in the FDI ceiling in key strategic sectors of telecom, civil aviation and insurance in the Budget even though the government was well aware of the stand of the Left parties on this issue.


Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan strikes a pose during the Pepsi contest winners' meet in Noida on Tuesday
Bollywood star Amitabh Bachchan strikes a pose during the Pepsi contest winners' meet in Noida on Tuesday. — PTI

EARLIER STORIES

 

Unrealistic Budget with fanciful projections: Oppn
New Delhi, July 20
The Opposition in the Rajya Sabha today said the Congress-led UPA government had presented an “unrealistic Budget with fanciful projections”. The second-day of the debate on the Budget (General) 2004-05 attracted critical observations by members.

Centaur resale rocks House, JPC probe sought
New Delhi, July 20
The disinvestment of Centaur Hotel in Mumbai today created a furore in Parliament with agitated members of the CPIM demanding that a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) be constituted to probe the matter.

Revenue deficit of states improving: FM
New Delhi, July 20
Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram today informed the Rajya Sabha that the revenue deficit of states had improved in the past couple of years and the RBI had also recommended various measures for improving the fiscal health of states in its reports.

Lodha presides over Birla Corp Board meeting
Kolkata, July 20
On the eve of legal battle at Kolkata high court between R.S.Lodha and the Birlas over the ‘ownership” of the M.P.Birla flagship group’s property worth over Rs 5,000 crore, a crucial meeting of the board of directors of Birla Corporation was held today in the city.

Big guns vie for Delhi, Mumbai airports
New Delhi, July 20
The race for bidding for the modernisation of the Delhi and Mumbai international airports warmed up today with as many 10 consortiums, including leading Indian corporates, Reliance, Bharti and Videocon, submitting their bids on the last day of submitting of Expression of Interest (EoI).

Stir threat by truckers
New Delhi, July 20
The All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) and other unions have threatened to launch a nationwide indefinite strike if the government fails to withdraw the proposed 10 per cent service tax on the transport sector.

Graphics:
*Mangoes: production in leading states
*Indigenous production of crude oil

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Consensus eludes EPF meet
Next round of talks on August 9 as impasse continues
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20
A meeting of the Central Board of Trustees has been fixed August 9 for finalising the interest rates for three crore provident fund (PF) subscribers, as a consensus could not be evolved at today’s meeting.

“There was no consensus and the EPF board would meet again on August 9 to discuss the issue,” CBT member and CITU secretary W R Varadarajan said.

No decision could be taken on the interest rate during a three-hour-long session this morning and Labour Minister Sis Ram Ola, who chaired the meeting, offered a next date for consideration of the issue, according to trade union leaders, who participated in the meeting. Trade unions’ decision to continue with their demand for 12 per cent interest rate was the main hurdle. Congress-affiliated INTUC was ready to settle for 8.25 per cent at the first meeting, while Left unions and RSS-affiliated BMS were pressing for 12 per cent rate of interest on deposits, even higher that the previous two years.

“The Government is offering 8 per cent whereas the Left unions and the BMS are demanding 12 per cent. ATEC is ready to negotiate from the ceiling of 9.5 per cent to the floor of 12 per cent,” Mr Vardarajan said. He said: “Finance Minister P Chidambaram is willing to increase the FDI limits and transaction tax but not the EPF rate for special deposit scheme (SDC), in which over 70 per cent of EPF fund is invested.”

On the same lines, the BMS leaders blamed the government for the delay saying, “the government should categorically state as to why it cannot allow 12 per cent.” The present EPF rate is 9.5 per cent — 9 per cent interest rate and 0.5 per cent special golden jubilee bonus-announced by former Labour Minister Sahib Singh Verma. Today’s meeting was held in two sessions as the first half of the meeting remained inconclusive and the chairman of CBT offered a fourth date of meeting. However, we decided to continue the meeting today after a break,” Mr Varadarajan said.

Even the resumed meeting failed to evolve a consensus.

“The reason for delay in arriving at a decision is basically on the principles of government policy,” Mr Vardarajan pointed out.

He said if the Finance Minister could meet brokers and explain to the Parliament a revision on turnover tax, why could he not review the interest rate on small savings and special deposit schemes. 
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Rollback of oil prices ruled out
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20
The government today informed the Rajya Sabha that it had no plans to roll back last month’s increase in prices of petrol, diesel and LPG and said a policy of pricing of major petroleum products was under review.

“There is no proposal to reconsider the increase in the prices of petrol, diesel and domestic LPG,” Petroleum Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.

The retail selling prices of petrol, diesel and domestic LPG were last month hiked by about Rs 2 per litre, Re 1 per litre and Rs 20 per cylinder, respectively.

“Taking into consideration the prevalent high international oil prices, the oil marketing companies (OMCs) sought to increase the consumer prices of petrol, diesel, LPG and kerosene,” he said.
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FDI hike bad tactics: CPI
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20
The CPI today said the Finance Minister P. Chidambaram should not have proposed a hike in the FDI ceiling in key strategic sectors of telecom, civil aviation and insurance in the Budget even though the government was well aware of the stand of the Left parties on this issue.

“Unnecessarily, difference of opinion (between the Left and the Government) is being projected in the media on the issue of FDI hike in strategic sectors. Was it wise on the part of the Finance Minister to include the proposals in the Budget?” CPI member P K Vasudevan Nair asked while participating in the discussion on the General Budget 2004 -05 in the Lok Sabha today.

He termed the proposals of FDI hike in the Budget as “not at all good tactics.”

“The ball is now in the government’s court. They should either withdraw or modify the proposal,” Mr Nair said.

He also opposed the Budget proposal to impose a new tax on NRI deposits, as it would adversely affect the contribution of Indians living abroad. He also said these measures should be taken for regeneration of traditional industries of Kerala such as cashew farming.

He also demanded an increase in the interest rates of EPF and said that a national legislation for agriculture workers should be enacted.

“This would enable the agriculture workers to earn minimum wages and other associate benefits,” he said.

“The government should not fail in keeping its promises. Performance is crucial and the Government has to be serious about implementing programmes,” Mr Nair said.

BJP member and former Union Minister Harin Pathak said the Finance Minister was trying to create a “false illusion of hope” and “misleading” people by setting fiscal targets, which were unrealistic.

“This Budget is just for seven months and I do not know how it will generate funds by aiming at targets which cannot be achieved,” he said.

The BJP member also criticised the Finance Minister on the proposed project on water bodies while relegating the river-linking project of Vajpayee government to the background.

“How can one fill tanks, ponds and other water bodies when there is no water. Linking of rivers is the solution,” he said.
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Unrealistic Budget with fanciful projections: Oppn
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20
The Opposition in the Rajya Sabha today said the Congress-led UPA government had presented an “unrealistic Budget with fanciful projections”.

The second-day of the debate on the Budget (General) 2004-05 attracted critical observations by members.

Mr B.J. Panda (BJP) said the Finance Minister, Mr P. Chidambaram, has been influenced by compulsions that have forced into the hands of the government to announce laudable objectives and make grand gestures, which simply cannot be funded.

Mr Panda said the inflation rate has already soared to six per cent and it is doubtful, if with the expected poor monsoon, it could be checked. He said a mismatch between the buoyant revenues that the Budget expects and the gestures that it makes need to be explained. “If this Budget were to be rated only on good intentions and laudable objectives, then I would have nothing to find fault with. But, the Budget has to be realistic.”

BSP supremo and former Chief Minister of Uttar Pradesh, Mayawati said that the government has tried to please the poor and the middle class. She said that if the government is serious about ameliorating SCs/STs, it should restructure its schemes.
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Centaur resale rocks House, JPC probe sought
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20
The disinvestment of Centaur Hotel in Mumbai today created a furore in Parliament with agitated members of the CPIM demanding that a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) be constituted to probe the matter.

In the Lok Sabha, CPM leader Basudeb Acharia raised the issue during zero hour charging the previous government with “fraudulent privatisation” of the hotel for a mere Rs 50 crore.

He alleged that the buyer was a member of the Air-India Board and former Disinvestment Minister Arun Shourie was present at a meeting between the buyer and the banker to organise for the requisite funds.

In the Rajya Sabha, CPM member Dipankar Mukherjee raised the issue, leading to a furore and a brief adjournment of the House, but Chairman Bhairon Singh Shekhawat later expunged the proceedings on the issue from the record.

Mr Shekhawat took the step, saying that the CPM member had raised the issue without permission of the Chair and cautioned members that they should not indulge in such tactics.

Later, addressing a press conference, Mr Mukherjee said he had written a letter to the Prime Minister, which urged the government to investigate the disinvestment of Centaur Hotel, Juhu, Mumbai by the Joint Parliamentary Committee or the CBI to ensure that such “scandalous transactions of public assets are not repeated again”.

Mr Mukherjee said that there are “disturbing reports on underpriced sale of Centaur Hotel, Juhu Beach, Mumbai which reportedly is also in the process of being resold at a premium”.

Earlier, Airport Centaur Hotel was resold at a premium of Rs 30 crore within six months of its sale, he said.
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Revenue deficit of states improving: FM
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20
Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram today informed the Rajya Sabha that the revenue deficit of states had improved in the past couple of years and the RBI had also recommended various measures for improving the fiscal health of states in its reports.

Replying to supplementaries during question hour in the Rajya Sabha, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram said after the revenue deficit of states had shot up to 2.79 per cent of GDP in 1999-2000, it had come down to 2.56 per cent in 2003-04.

“No doubt the 5th Pay Commission had a severe impact on the state finances, but that is behind us,” he said adding on an average in the last five years, the revenue deficit had come down by 0.25 per cent.

Mr Chidambaram hoped the states would implement VAT as per schedule.
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Lodha presides over Birla Corp Board meeting
Subhrangshu Gupta

Kolkata, July 20
On the eve of legal battle at Kolkata high court between R.S.Lodha and the Birlas over the ‘ownership” of the M.P.Birla flagship group’s property worth over Rs 5,000 crore, a crucial meeting of the board of directors of Birla Corporation was held today in the city.

The meeting was brief and it approved the companies financial transaction for the first quarter but it did not take any decision on the appointment of the board’s new chairman, which has been falling vacant since the death of Ms Priyamvada Birla on July 4, who died childless at the age of 75 leaving behind no legal heir from the side of the late husband M.P.Birla and herself. The co-chairman of the company, R.S.Lodha presided today’s meeting.

Lodha yesterday had filed a petition at the high court for probating Ms Priyamvada Birla’s will of transferring of the entire property to him, which the Birlas had already challenged in the court and prayed for the caveat so that they could have opportunity to represent their case before finalizing on the probate.

Today’s meeting was held in-camera and none other than the board members present, had been allowed inside. To avoid any unpleasant happenings and also to maintain its secrecy, the venue of the meeting was shifted on the last moment from its traditional meeting place of the Birla House to a five-star hotel on the EM by pass near Salt Lake City.

From the Birla family, a lone representative, Ms Nandini Nopany, the eldest daughter of K.K.Birla was present at the meeting which the companies’ co-chairman, R.S.Lodha presided.

Others attended included K.C.Mittal, the company's managing director, the industrialist N.K.Kejriwal, Dr Dharmender Bhandari and Arnab Basu (ICICI).

Lodha’s closed circles said Mr Lodha as company’s co-chairman would automatically become the Chairman but a proposal to this effect would have to be passed in the company’s annual general meeting, which could be held any day from now.

After the meeting, there was no press meeting nor was any press statement issued on the outcome of the meeting. But when the reporters waiting outside the hotel asked R.S.Lodha if there was anything good for the Lodhas, he made a cut reply “ it’s good for the Birla Corporation” and then hurried past to get inside his limousine parked closed to the gate.
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Big guns vie for Delhi, Mumbai airports
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20
The race for bidding for the modernisation of the Delhi and Mumbai international airports warmed up today with as many 10 consortiums, including leading Indian corporates, Reliance, Bharti and Videocon, submitting their bids on the last day of submitting of Expression of Interest (EoI).

The 10 bids received have collaborations from abroad as was stipulated by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The time for the bids to be received by the Airport got over at 5 pm today.

Besides Bharati, which had submitted its bid yesterday and Videocon and Reliance Airport Developers, the other bidders are Larsen & Toubro and Piramal consortium, Australian investment bank Macquaire Bank, which is said to be collaborating with the Sterlite group, Fraport and GMR (which is also developing Bangalore Airport) consortium, GVK (developing Hyderabad airport) and Airports Company of South Africa consortium, DS Construction Ltd, DLF which has said to have bid in collaboration with a Malaysian firm and a consortium, comprising Essel and TAV Gulf.

Telecom giant Bharti Enterprises Limited and Singapore’s Changi Airport Managers and Partners (CHAMPS) had submitted bids yesterday after forming a joint venture for the purpose. While the Bharti Enterprises will hold 54 per cent equity, the Changi Airport Managers and Partners (CHAMPS) Singapore Ptv Ltd will have 20 per cent stake.

The Rs 2,500-crore GMR group earlier today announced that it has submitted expression of interest (EoI) for development and management of Delhi and Mumbai airports with it being the lead member of the consortium that includes Fraport AG of Germany and the India Development Fund (IDF) as well.

Fraport is the second largest publicly listed airport company in the world with revenues totalling € 1.8 billion. It manages the Frankfurt airport and will be airport operator in the consortium.
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Stir threat by truckers
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, July 20
The All-India Motor Transport Congress (AIMTC) and other unions have threatened to launch a nationwide indefinite strike if the government fails to withdraw the proposed 10 per cent service tax on the transport sector.

Mr J.M. Saksena, general secretary, AIMTC, disclosed today that the transporters would take a final decision on launching nationwide strike from August 21 if the government fails to review its decision within a month.

Truck-operator unions have already launched agitations at all major transport centres, state capitals and district headquarters to protest against the government’s decision. A delegation of the All-India Transporters Welfare Association (AITWA), a body representing over 60 per cent truckers in the country, has submitted a memorandum to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in this regard.

Some of the unions are also considering to approach the Supreme Court against Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s alleged discriminatory decision to impose service tax only on road transport leaving untouched the railways — a major competitor of the truck operators. 
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BRIEFLY

L&T contract
New Delhi, July 20
Domestic engineering firm Larsen and Toubro today said it has won an order worth $ 52.5 million from the United Arab Emirates to develop a process platform in an oil field in the Gulf. L and T will engineer, procure, construct, and install the platform in the El Bunduq field near the boundary between UAE and Qatar. — UNI

HPMC pact
Shimla, July 20
The HPMC, a public sector undertaking, today signed a memorandum of understanding with the Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) for the marketing of its products. The MoU was signed by Mr C.R.B. Lalit, managing director, HPMC, and Mr R. Sudhakar Rao, general manager, HPCL (northern region), in the presence of Chief Minister Virbhadra Singh. — TNS
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