SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

LUDHIANA

DELHI


THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
B U S I N E S S

Left smells scam in EPF interest
New Delhi, August 17
The government today came under attack from the Left parties for reducing the EPF interest rate to 8.5 per cent even as Labour Minister Sis Ram Ola assured the Lok Sabha that the rate will be hiked if there were surplus funds by the end of the year.

ACHIEVERS
Chopra — competent to core in construction, cars
New Delhi, August 17
For Raj Chopra, Chairman and Managing Director of the Competent Group of Companies, it may well be described as being competent to the core.

A-I to take planes on lease
New Delhi, August 17
Faced with the shortage of aircraft, the country’s international carrier Air-India (A-I) would take the planes on lease till the acquisition of new aircraft, Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said.

Banks ignoring RBI terms: panel
Farmers forced to take loans from arhtiyas
New Delhi, August 17
A Parliamentary Standing Committee today asked the government to make it mandatory for the banks to extend 18 per cent of their advances to the agricultural sector.



EARLIER STORIES

 
Dr Ajay K. Sonkar with President APJ Abdul Kalam at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday.
Dr Ajay K. Sonkar with President APJ Abdul Kalam at Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi on Monday. Dr Sonkar has earned fame for India by producing the biggest black pearl in the world. — PTI

SBI Caps focuses on north
Chandigarh, August 17
SBI Capitals Markets (SBI Caps), the investment banking arm of the State Bank of India, plans to commence foreign operations shortly, besides focussing on mid-cap companies in the northern region. The company plans to opens offices in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh as also South India.

Human face of reforms a mask: Bardhan
New Delhi, August 17
Communist Party of India (CPI) leader A.B. Bardhan described the so-called “human face” of UPA government’s reform programme a “new mask”.

Flu scare: livestock import banned
New Delhi, August 17
The government today imposed a ban on the import of certain livestock and their products from all countries in view of the resurfacing of bird flu in Vietnam.

LPG backlog to go
New Delhi, August 17
The government today informed the Rajya Sabha that the backlog of providing 84,000 LPG connections in the country would be cleared within 30 days.

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Left smells scam in EPF interest
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 17
The government today came under attack from the Left parties for reducing the EPF interest rate to 8.5 per cent even as Labour Minister Sis Ram Ola assured the Lok Sabha that the rate will be hiked if there were surplus funds by the end of the year.

“No final decision has been taken in this regard... if there is a surplus fund, there will definitely be no hesitation on our part to raise the interest rate,” Mr Ola told the Lok Sabha while replying to a calling attention motion raised by CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta.

Mr Dasgupta launched an attack on the government, charging it with resorting to a “unilateral” decision and saying that the decision was “imposed” on the Central Board of Trustees (DBT) of the EPFO by the minister.

Mr Dasgupta said that never in the history of EPFO had any decision been taken on interest rates by majority. In a rather caustic observation in response to the minister’s brief initial remarks that the CBT had take the decision to reduce the interest rates, Mr Dasgupta said since the “word lie cannot be used as it is unparliamentary, I have to say this is complete dilution of facts and perversion of truths”.

“The minister never allowed any meeting to take place... it was not a decision, but an imposition of the decision... there was no unanimity... maybe he is acting atsomebody’s behest… who is pulling the strings?” Mr Dasgupta said.

In response, Mr Ola said the board had to go for a majority decision as there was no consensus on the issue even after four meetings.

“This is not the final decision and the EPF will not hesitate to give more to the members if there was surplus at the end of the year”, the minister said.

Mr Dasgupta said the reduction in interest rate was “something like a scam” and the government had understated its earnings and overstated its liabilities.

“No scientific accounting procedure is being adopted,” the CPI leader said.

He also took a dig at Finance Minister P. Chidambaram for being “soft on stock brokers and hard on workers”. Mr Chidambaram had reduced the turnover tax after the stockbroking community protested against it, resulting in an estimated revenue loss of Rs 6,000 crore. On the other hand, only Rs 600 crore was required to maintain 9.5 per cent interest on EPF.

“If necessary the trade unions will go on strike as the issue involved the livelihood of several crore people”, he said.

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ACHIEVERS
Chopra — competent to core in construction, cars
Gaurav Choudhury
Tribune News Service

Raj Chopra
Raj Chopra

New Delhi, August 17
For Raj Chopra, Chairman and Managing Director of the Competent Group of Companies, it may well be described as being competent to the core.

From a young pilot officer to that of being the largest car seller in the world, the story of entrepreneurship has been a case of spirit, enthusiasm and the ability to take risks.

“I left the Indian Air Force, where I was a Pilot Officer, at the age of 19 and joined a construction company as a store manager. After about four years, I started my own construction company with borrowed money,” Mr Chopra told The Tribune.

His first major project came about a year later when he built the Russian Pavilion prior to Gandhi Jayanti in 1970. “We built it in 23 days flat,” he said.

New and bigger projects began to flow soon after, with his company being entrusted the task of building the Russian Consulate in Trivandrum. “Ours is the only construction company in Delhi which had the privilege to complete a five star hotel -Sofitel Surya - before the onset of the Asian games in 1982,” Mr Chopra said. Today the company boasts of building several landmark properties, including the Holiday Inn, Manali, which is run by the company in an exclusive license agreement.

“Till date, construction continues to remain our flagship business even though many people seem to think that automobile dealership is our main area,” he said.

Having carved out a niche in the domestic domain, Mr Chopra plans to map the company’s footprint overseas. “We were considering to build a multiplex in Uzbekistan. We are waiting for the liberalisation of the repatriation laws of the country. At present, repatriation of money is not allowed from out of Uzbekistan. However, some liberalisation is expected very soon,” he said.

Mr Chopra wants to replicate the success of the popular 3C’s complex in New Delhi. “3C’s stands for Competent Cine Court and the concept of a food court with a multiplex has found wide acceptability with people. A similar model is being planned for our Uzbekistan venture where there would be three theatres showing English, Russian and Uzbeki, and Indian movies separately,” he said.

In 1978, Mr Chopra set up the Competent Film Enterprises, “a traditional family line of business” which had become defunct after Partition. “We have released 150 films, including blockbusters such as Silsila, Kala Patthar and Trishul,” he said.

Then in 1982, “an advertisement came out in the newspaper seeking parties to set up a showroom for Maruti vehicles in Connaught Place,” he informed.

“We applied, received the offer and the showroom opened on December 6, 1983 with Mr Suzuki gracing the inaugural ceremony,” he adds.

Today, Competent Automobiles is the largest car seller in the world, selling an average 1200 cars a month and executing about 400 “denting and painting” orders a day in the specialised workshop.

The annual turnover of the Competent Group of Companies is in the range of $ 120 million. Mr Chopra also has the distinction of being honoured by the government for being the highest individual taxpayer for five consecutive years from 1994-95 to 1998-99.

A keen sports aficionado (Mr Chopra is the treasurer of the Indian Olympic Association and has played cricket and volleyball at the competitive level), Mr Chopra now is focussed on his next project - an old-age home complete with all facilities.

“I am greatly affected by news about old people being killed by servants even as their children go abroad,” Mr Chopra said.

The old-age home will come up somewhere near Gurgaon and within two years. “It will serve people of all income groups and have all facilities,” he said.

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A-I to take planes on lease
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 17
Faced with the shortage of aircraft, the country’s international carrier Air-India (A-I) would take the planes on lease till the acquisition of new aircraft, Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said.

He informed the Rajya Sabha during the question hour that as an interim arrangement, aircraft would be leased as procuring new ones would take time.

Mr Patel blamed the previous NDA government for the lack of initiative on this issue.

Stating that Air-India would have to offer new products to stay in the competition, he said tenders for leasing of aircraft were received only yesterday and a decision would be taken in this regard.

In reply to a query from Shiv Sena member Sanjay Nirupam on whether the ministry would raise the issue of lease withholding tax with the Finance Ministry, Mr Patel said the member should not make it a political issue and added both ministries would deal with it.

Admitting leasing was not a permanent solution to solve the problem of aircraft for Air-India, Mr Patel said it would take about 18 months for a new aircraft to be acquired after an order is placed.

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Banks ignoring RBI terms: panel
Farmers forced to take loans from arhtiyas
Tribune News Service

FM to review farm lending

FINANCE Minister P. Chidambaram will review the progress of lending to the agriculture sector by scheduled commercial banks on September 9 to ensure that the credit off-take to the sector increases by 30 per cent this fiscal.

The Finance Ministry is monitoring the performance of the public sector banks in agriculture lending on a regular basis, an official statement said today. — UNI

New Delhi, August 17
A Parliamentary Standing Committee today asked the government to make it mandatory for the banks to extend 18 per cent of their advances to the agricultural sector.

The report presented to the Lok Sabha said the failure of the banks to extend the stipulation laid down by the Reserve Bank of India results in farmers taking loans from “unscrupulous” private money lenders or arhtiyas on exorbitant rates of interest in the absence of institutional loan.

The committee, appalled over the continuing incidences of suicide committed by farmers in the country, said the flow of soft-term institutional credit should be increased.

It asked the government to a make a study of farmers committing suicide due to being in debt and the suicides committed by commercial borrowers.

The committee asked the government to instruct the cooperative and rural banks to reduce the rate of interest rationally because small and marginal farmers take loans from these banks only.

It said the ceiling of Rs 50,000 should be increased to Rs 1, 50,000 for charging the minimum rate of interest for agricultural credit.

The report said since Nabard is providing refinance at 5.25 to 6.75 per cent of interest, the actual rate of interest to be charged from the farmers should also be reasonably reduced and difference should not be more than 2-3 per cent.

The Parliamentary Committee also recommended the government to bring more crops under the purview of ‘National Agriculture Insurance Scheme’ and village rather than block or tehsil should be taken as a unit of collecting data.

It also observed that under the price support scheme, new crops/commodities were not being included. It said agricultural commodities like cash crops, which largely affect a farmer’s financial condition, should be included in the list of notified commodities for PSS.

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SBI Caps focuses on north
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, August 17
SBI Capitals Markets (SBI Caps), the investment banking arm of the State Bank of India, plans to commence foreign operations shortly, besides focussing on mid-cap companies in the northern region. The company plans to opens offices in Rajasthan and Chattisgarh as also South India.

Very soon, the company will become one of the few Indian ones to have offices in the foreign markets. The company will open its London office by October- end.

Today, its Chandigarh branch was formally inaugurated. Talking to TNS about the company’s expansion plans, Mr Indrajit Gupta, Chief Executive Officer of SBI Caps, said the office in London would cater to the privileged customers on mergers and acquisitions.

There are also plans to expand the operations to Hong Kong and Singapore by the next year. This will go a long way in assessing the FIIs funds.

Mr Gupta said: “Not only big players, mid-cap companies are also wanting to make international acquisitions rather than import plant and machinery. Enquires have been pouring in from the pharmaceutical and automobile sectors, who are poised to take their mid-cap companies outside India,” he added.

In India, with the opening of the Chandigarh office, SBI Caps now has presence in nine cities, including Guwahati in North East

He also disclosed that negotiations are on with three major parties in this region to act as consultants and advisors, besides some small infrastructural and private hydel projects in Himachal. It has also undertaken a project advisory work for a major tractor unit in Punjab and acting as a consultant for a Punjab-based steel unit for setting up a backward integrating sponge iron plant.

Mr Gupta said the company sees huge business opportunities in the Northern region. This will stem from large capacity additions in hydropower in Himachal Pradesh, besides consolidation, expansion and modernisation of the textile sector.

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Human face of reforms a mask: Bardhan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 17
Communist Party of India (CPI) leader A.B. Bardhan described the so-called “human face” of UPA government’s reform programme a “new mask”.

“A human face means only a new mask,” Mr Bardhan told a gathering of economists here. The CPI general secretary went on to add that in any case, it was the acceptance of the fact that so far the reforms were “without a human face.” The veteran Communist leader, who inaugurated a seminar on ‘Employment and Economic Growth’ this morning, said reforms in the country should grow from the economic and social realities of the lives of Indians.

“The reforms should be based on our needs. Why should the reforms be the recipe given by the IMF and World Bank? he asked.

He said the mantra of global financial institutions were “liberalise, privatise and globalise”. A lot of rubbish is being said as if there is some profound economic truth in them, he added with disdain.

Mr Bardhan also trained his guns on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the architect of economic reforms in India. “I would have been happier if the Prime Minister had mentioned agriculture as 3rd or even 4th in his seven issues of priority, but he mentioned it at number five,” he said referring to Dr Singh’s Independence Day speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort.

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Flu scare: livestock import banned
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 17
The government today imposed a ban on the import of certain livestock and their products from all countries in view of the resurfacing of bird flu in Vietnam.

The notification issued by the Directorate-General of Foreign Trade said the prohibition would be in force for six months from the date of publication of notification or till the time it is modified or withdrawn.

It said the products prohibited for import are domestic and wild birds, including captive birds, live pigs and pig meat products (except processed pig products), meat and meat products from avian species, except processed poultry meat and its products.

The ban also covers semen of domestic and wild birds and products of animal origin (from birds) intended for use in animal feeding or for agricultural or industrial use. The import of products like day-old chicks, ducks, turkey and other newly hatched avian species, hatching eggs, eggs and egg products has also been banned.

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LPG backlog to go
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, August 17
The government today informed the Rajya Sabha that the backlog of providing 84,000 LPG connections in the country would be cleared within 30 days.

Petroleum and Natural Gas Minister Mani Shankar Aiyar, responding to supplementaries during Question Hour, said out of the total backlog, Tamil Nadu alone accounted for 27,000 applications and Kerala also had a bulk of demand.

Replying to another question, the minister said the Indian Oil Corporation had not objected to allowing private companies to sell LPG directly to bulk consumers. However, a private marketer was required to import LPG before marketing it in the country, he said.

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BRIEFLY

Ban lifted
New Delhi, August 17
The government has lifted the ban on exports to Libya following the withdrawal of United Nations sanctions. “Unless otherwise specifically provided, import/export will be valid from/to any country. However, import or export of arms and related material from or to Iraq shall be prohibited,” a Directorate General of Foreign Trade notification said. — PTI

Beopar mandal
Ludhiana, August 17
The Punjab Beopar Mandal has rejected the implementation of Value Added Tax (Vat) with effect from April 2005 and has urged the state government to scrap other taxes like excise duty, octroi, market fee, property tax, house tax, professional tax and service tax before the implementation of the same. The details of the meeting held on Sunday were released today by the mandal. — OC

Dr Fixit Institute
Chandigarh, August 17
Pidilite Industries Ltd has instituted Dr Fixit Institute for creating awareness of good construction practices, mainly in waterproofing and repairs, through education and training and to serve as a platform for construction industry professionals for knowledge-sharing and exchange of ideas. The institute would impart training all over India. — TNS

Maruti on top
New Delhi, August 17
Domestic car leader Maruti Udyog Ltd (MUL) has topped in automotive sales satisfaction, says research firm J D Power Asia-Pacific. The top honour of MUL was followed by Skoda and Fiat. Ford secured fourth position followed by Chevrolet, Mitsubishi, Hyundai and Opel. Toyota, Tata Motors, Honda Siel and Mahindra were at the bottom of the list, J D Power said in a statement here. — UNI

HDFC Bank
Chandigarh, August 17
HDFC Bank today opened its first branch in Shimla and Himachal Pradesh. Inaugurated by Mr. S.S. Parmar, Chief Secretary, Finance, Himachal Pradesh, it is located in Sanjauli. The customer will enjoy the convenience of being able to drive right up to the branch. —TNS

Networked dist
Malappuram (Kerala), August 17
With the commissioning of Akshaya Project — a unique ‘ICT for Development’ initiative, this district in northern Kerala has become the first fully networked rural district in the world. “Akshaya is an endeavour to bridge the digital divide in Kerala. The Malappuram project is a pilot one under the Kerala State IT Mission to impart computer education to all,” State IT Minister P K Kunhalikutty said at Manjeri near here. — PTI

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