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$12.5-billion LNG deal with Australia likely
Formal agreement in March
New Delhi, January 3
While the ONGC will formally announce the details of new gas discoveries in the Krishna-Godavari basin within a fortnight, India is likely to sign a deal to import 2.5 million tonnes per annum of LNG from Australia by March end. "The results of the discoveries are very encouraging and we are planning to make the announcement in a couple of weeks,'' said ONGC Chairman R.S. Sharma at a press conference.
Mr M.S. Srinivasan, Secretary, Petroleum and Natural Gas (right), along with Mr R.S.Sharma, CMD, ONGC, at a press conference on the 7th International Oil & Gas conference and exhibition "Petrotech-2007", to be held from January 15 to 19, in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Mr M.S. Srinivasan, Secretary, Petroleum and Natural Gas (right), along with Mr R.S.Sharma, CMD, ONGC, at a press conference on the 7th International Oil & Gas conference and exhibition "Petrotech-2007", to be held from January 15 to 19, in New Delhi on Wednesday. — A Tribune photograph

US bidder for Hutch-Essar? Verizon says ‘no comments’
New York, January 3
The battle for India’s fourth-largest mobile operator Hutch Essar may become even more high-profile with a prospective buyer from the US telecom space joining the list of potential buyers doing the rounds.



EARLIER STORIES
 
Models display creations by Rina Dhaka, Abha Dalmia and Chandni Munjal at a preview of the upcoming Bridal Asia, 2007, in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Models display creations by Rina Dhaka, Abha Dalmia and Chandni Munjal at a preview of the upcoming Bridal Asia, 2007, in New Delhi on Wednesday. Bridal Asia, 2007, will be held in the national Capital from January 13 to January 15 and showcase outfits of designers from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. — AFP

Embargo on agri-export zones
New Delhi, January 3
The Centre has decided to put an embargo on the  creation of new agriculture export zones and asked  the states to reconsider  the proposals pending  with them.

Govt may have to write off Rs 85,000 cr tax arrears
New Delhi, January 3
The government may have to write off a whopping Rs 85,000 crore tax arrears accumulated over the past several years as these have been found “non-recoverable” by Income Tax Department.

Rs 418-cr UAE order for L&T
Mumbai, January 3
India's largest engineering and construction conglomerate L&T has bagged a Rs 418 crore order from the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority for the construction of six major electrical substations in the Al Ain sector of the country.

i-flex buys Capco arm
New Delhi, January 3
i-flex Solutions Ltd has acquired Singapore-based subsidiary of Capital Markets Company Pte  Ltd (Capco).

Workers cover a Chevrolet Corvette to keep the dust off of it as preparations for the North American International Auto Show continue in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday. The show opens to the public on January 13
Workers cover a Chevrolet Corvette to keep the dust off of it as preparations for the North American International Auto Show continue in Detroit, Michigan, on Tuesday. The show opens to the public on January 13. — AFP

Rockman ropes in foreign players  for SEZs
New Delhi, January 3
Rockman Projects Limited, which is coming up with SEZs in Ludhiana, Gurgaon and Jaipur, has joined hands with some of the world’s best names to give an international touch to its new initiative.

TRAI moots grievance redressal system
New Delhi, January 3
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has proposed institutional mechanism for the redressal of consumer grievances.

CST phase-out likely to begin on April 1
New Delhi, January 3
The Central Sales Tax (CST) may be cut to 3 per cent next fiscal as Union Finance Ministry and state Finance Ministers have reached a "broad consensus" on a compensation package to be given to states for revenue loss due to CST reduction.

General insurance premium market to stabilise in 3 years
New Delhi, January 3
As the general insurance market gears itself up to the new detariffied, free-pricing regime that took effect on Monday, consumers expect premium rates to nosedive and stabilise in three years.

RPG Transmission gets Rs 193-cr Power Grid order
Mumbai, January 3
RPG Transmission, part of the Rs 9,500-crore RPG Enterprises, said today it has secured two orders worth Rs 193 crore from the Power Grid Corporation of India.

SBI Life unveils Horizon II pension plan
Mumbai, January 3
SBI Life today unveiled the new Horizon II pension product, a unit-linked pension product aimed at offering greater retirement security to investors and retirees alike and it is hopeful of earning revenue, amounting to Rs 800-900 crore by the end of the current financial year.

R Comm may raise funds from overseas
Mumbai, January 3
Reliance Communications, which is eyeing to acquire the country's fourth-largest mobile firm Hutch-Essar, said today it plans to raise funds through issue of securities in the international market.

 

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$12.5-billion LNG deal with Australia likely
Formal agreement in March
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 3
While the ONGC will formally announce the details of new gas discoveries in the Krishna-Godavari basin within a fortnight, India is likely to sign a deal to import 2.5 million tonnes per annum of LNG from Australia by March end.

''The results of the discoveries are very encouraging and we are planning to make the announcement in a couple of weeks,'' said ONGC Chairman R.S. Sharma at a press conference.

Last month, it had said that reserves in the Krishna Godavari basin could exceed market expectations of 21-22 trillion cubic feet, but the numbers would depend on further drilling.

Reliance Industries Ltd struck one of the world's largest finds in 2002 in the same deep-water area.

The ONGC has found a 28-30-metre net gas pay zone at a depth of about 5,400 metres in the block's UD-1 well.

Earlier, Petroleum Secretary M S Srinivasan told reporters that India was likely to sign a $12.5-billion deal with Australia in the next two-three months to import 2.5 million tonnes per annum of liquefied natural gas (LNG) for 25 years, beginning mid-2010.

“We have concluded most of the agreements... a formal agreement can be signed as early as March-end,” he said

Petronet LNG Ltd will import 2.5 million tonnes of LNG from Chevron-operated Gorgon project.

Chevron Australia has a mandate to sign a sale deal with Petronet by June 30, but a formal agreement can be inked within next 60 days, he said.

Petronet LNG Ltd, a company promoted by ONGC, Indian Oil Corp, GAIL Ltd and Bharat Petroleum Corp, will import LNG from the Gorgon project at its under-construction Kochi terminal in Kerala.

Supplies will begin around mid-2010, he said, but refused to give the price at which the LNG will be imported.

Sources, however, said the deal is worth around $12.5 billion.

The Gorgon project plans to develop the greater Gorgon gas fields, located about 130 km off the north-west coast of western Australia. The Greater Gorgon gas fields contain resources of about 40 trillion cubic feet of gas, Australia's largest known undeveloped gas resource.

Chevron is operator of the project with a 50 per cent interest, with ExxonMobil and Shell each holding 25 per cent.

The project involves building two trains capable of producing a total of 10 million tonnes per annum of LNG. About three shipments a week are expected to leave a dedicated LNG loading jetty.

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US bidder for Hutch-Essar? Verizon says ‘no comments’ 

New York, January 3
The battle for India’s fourth-largest mobile operator Hutch Essar may become even more high-profile with a prospective buyer from the US telecom space joining the list of potential buyers doing the rounds.

So far, UK’s Vodafone Group and India’s Reliance Communications are the only two potential bidders to have made public their interest in acquiring Hutch Essar.

However, Indian partner in the joint venture Essar Group and Malaysia’s Maxis Communications are also reported to have made indicative offers for the 67 per cent stake held by foreign partner Hong Kong-based Hutchison Telecom (HTIL).

Meanwhile, there have been reports about Egypt’s Orascom, Qatar Telecom and a consortium of private equity funds mulling their respective bids for Hutch Essar.

Verizon Communications, which has a market capitalisation of more than $108 billion on the NYSE, is the latest name being churned out by rumour mills for the prized Indian firm. While a spokesperson of the US firm said it was the company’s policy not to comment on “this kind of speculation,” industry sources said.

Incidentally, Verizon Communications offers wireless services in the US through Verizon Wireless, a joint venture with Vodafone, one of the interested parties for Hutch Essar.

The Verizon spokesperson also declined to comment on queries related to whether a potential bid would be in partnership with Vodafone or could it go solo.

Meanwhile, international media reports said questions were being raised over continuation of the joint venture between Vodafone and Verizon in the US.

The British telecom firm owns a 45 per cent stake in Verizon Wireless. The JV has 56.7 million customers and revenues of more than $32 billion.

London-based ‘The Times’ newspaper reported last weekend that questions over Vodafone’s commitment to the American market hasbeen revived by a potential $22 billion sale of Alltel, the fifth-biggest mobile operator in the US. — PTI

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Embargo on agri-export zones

New Delhi, January 3
The Centre has decided to put an embargo on the  creation of new agriculture export zones and asked  the states to reconsider  the proposals pending with them.

"The state governments have been asked to reconsider the proposals in the light of the decision," official sources said.

The Centre had received 34 proposals for setting up AEZs but it was decided that instead of sanctioning more AEZs, efforts should be made to strengthen the existing ones.

The sources said the Centre would make exceptions only if there were "strong and compelling" reasons.

AEZs, as opposed to SEZs, are agro-climatic zones specialising in particular product spread over an area of a district.

The decision to put an embargo on creating new AEZs was taken after a "peer" evaluation of the existing ones.

The government has so far sanctioned 60 AEZs since the policy was formulated in 2001. However, they have failed to take off in a significant way even after five years of their existence.

While the government has decided to put an embargo on sanctioning any more agri- zones, it is not willing to put a cap on SEZs despite strong opposition, particularly from the Left.

While the total agri-exports from India aggregate to almost $9billion, the contribution from AEZs remains much below expectations.

The main agriculture products exported from India are foodgrains, nuts and seeds, meat, poultry and dairy products, processed foods, tobacco, tea and coffee. — PTI 

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Govt may have to write off Rs 85,000 cr tax arrears

New Delhi, January 3
The government may have to write off a whopping Rs 85,000 crore tax arrears accumulated over the past several years as these have been found “non-recoverable” by Income Tax Department.

Out of the outstanding Rs 1,19,000 crore tax arrears up to 2003-04, about Rs 85,000 crore is “non-recoverable”. This includes Rs 28,400 crore outstanding against the Harshad Mehta Group of companies, banks and stock brokers involved in the 1992 securities scam, sources in the Finance Ministry said.

The department, which has so far recovered about Rs 10,000-crore tax arrears against the target of Rs 11,000 crore for 2006-07, has expressed helplessness in recovering the “non-recoverable” tax arrears.

“In fact, about Rs 85,000 crore arrears are outstanding only on paper, and are mounting every year due to interest addition,” a senior Income Tax official said.

The “non-recoverable” dues also include about Rs 12,000 crore against those companies and assessees, whose assets have reduced due to the closure of units or a fall in stocks.

In the Harshad Mehta case, the custodian appointed by the Supreme Court is in possession of Rs 1,700 crore funds, which could be distributed only among various stakeholders after the decision of the case, sources said.

The department has also expressed doubts about the recovery of tax arrears from companies and persons involved in various scams like the Telgi scam and the fodder scam in Bihar.

It Department sources maintained that in some cases, funds have been transferred by assesses abroad through the hawala route, and there was nothing to recover.

Despite a shortage of manpower for recovery of tax arrears, the department was focusing on recovery of high-value tax arrears from corporate entities, an official said.

During the current fiscal, it has so far recovered Rs 738 crore from ICICI Bank as against Rs 1,616 crore tax arrears and Rs 2,107 crore from NTPC Ltd as against tax arrears of Rs 2,814 crore.

The tax authorities maintained that the government should take a “realistic view” regarding tax arrears on the pattern of non-performing assets (NPAs) in public sector banks. The banks had earlier written-off a substantial amount of NPAs, where recovery seemed impossible.

In some cases, the IT Department had lost cases against assessees in appellate tribunals and High Courts, but arrears of Rs 8,900 crore were still outstanding as cases were pending in the Supreme Court, the official added. — PTI

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Rs 418-cr UAE order for L&T

Mumbai, January 3
India's largest engineering and construction conglomerate L&T has bagged a Rs 418 crore order from the Abu Dhabi Water and Electricity Authority for the construction of six major electrical substations in the Al Ain sector of the country.

The project includes design and construction of a civil building and over 120 km of 33KV cabling and is expected to be completed within 18 months.

The L&T-built substations will come up at Al Muthredh, Al Mezyad South. Al Dhaher South, New Al Qua'a, Al Qattara and Civic Centre to reinforce the region's power distribution network and help meet the increased demand for power.

Each substation would consist of 33 KV gas insulated switchgear, 11KV air-insulated switchgear, 15 MVA 33/11 IV transformers. They would also have substation control, protection and telecommunication system, DC System and auxiliaries. — PTI

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i-flex buys Capco arm

New Delhi, January 3
i-flex Solutions Ltd has acquired Singapore-based subsidiary of Capital 
Markets Company Pte Ltd (Capco).

The company's Singapore headquartered subsidiary, i-flex solutions Pte Ltd, entered into an agreement to acquire the Singapore subsidiary of Capco. With this acquisition, the company expects to strengthen its ability to provide high-end consulting to banks in the Asia Pacific region.

''The acquisition is in line with our strategic initiative to address business transformation requirements of top-tier financial institutions,” i-flex Consulting Senior Vice- President Vijay Sharma said today. — UNI

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Rockman ropes in foreign players for SEZs
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 3
Rockman Projects Limited, which is coming up with SEZs in Ludhiana, Gurgaon and Jaipur, has joined hands with some of the world’s best names to give an international touch to its new initiative.

For design, technical development and implementation of the master plan of SEZs, Rockman has tied up with Jurong International Group of Singapore while Ernst and Young has been roped in for liaison with various government bodies for necessary permission etc.

Vice-President of Rockman Rahul Soni said here that the 100-hectare SEZ in Ludhiana would be a textile SEZ while those in Gurgaon and Jaipur would be multi-product SEZs, he said, adding that the projected investment in these three projects was expected to be over Rs 6,000 crore.

All three projects would have capitive power generation and the company planned to sell excess electricity to power Boards and industries outside the SEZs.

Rockman had created a corpus to set the ball rolling and was also in talks with banks for raising funds for the projects. “If need be the company will also bring an IPO,” Mr Soni said.

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TRAI moots grievance redressal system
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 3
The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) has proposed institutional mechanism for the redressal of consumer grievances. The growth and competition in the telecom sector has resulted in frequent introduction of new tariff plans and value-added premium rate services by service providers, resulting in increasing number of incidences of consumer grievances.

The regulatory body has sought the views of consumers and other stakeholders on the institutional mechanism, which would be set up to meet the needs of the consumers. One of the recurring grievance brought before the TRAI by the consumers is lack of information relating to where and how to lodge grievances, the officials of the service providers to be contacted/ approached for redressal of grievance and the time period by which the grievance will be resolved.

It said the proposed institutional mechanism focuses on resolution of consumers’ grievances within the company and is service provider-centric. It defines structural framework of institutional mechanism at the level of call centre, nodal officer and appellate authority. It also outlines the processes and procedures and time limits for redressal of grievances at these levels.

Consumers may contact the call centre of service provider on toll-free number at the first instance for redressal of their grievances. All complaints, pertaining to fault/service disruption, shall be attended within 3 days and all other complaints shall be attended by the call centre within 7 days, subject to time limits laid down in regulations on quality of service.

In case the consumer is not satisfied with the redressal of his grievance at the call centre level or in case the call centre, within the above time limit, does not attend to the complaint, he may approach the nodal officer for redressal of his grievance. All grievances received by the nodal officer with respect to fault or service disruption or repair/restoration of fault shall be got redressed within 3 days and other grievances shall be redressed by the nodal officer within 10 days of the registration of the grievance.

In case the consumer is still not satisfied with the redressal of his grievance by the nodal officer or in case his complaint is not redressed by the nodal officer within the above time limit or no reply is received regarding resolution of the complaint from him, the complainant may appeal to the appellate authority for redressal of his grievance and the appellate authority shall decide on the appeal within 30 days.

The service provider shall publish a nanual of practice for handling consumer complaints, outlining the various provisions, time limits, benchmarks and procedures for seeking redressal of grievances, including information which affect the consumers, it added.

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CST phase-out likely to begin on April 1

New Delhi, January 3
The Central Sales Tax (CST) may be cut to 3 per cent next fiscal as Union Finance Ministry and state Finance Ministers have reached a "broad consensus" on a compensation package to be given to states for revenue loss due to CST reduction.

"I am happy to report that a broad consensus has been reached on the issue of phasing out CST," Union Finance Minister P Chidambaram told reporters after one-and-a-half hour meeting with Empowered Committee of State Finance Ministers on VAT.

The CST, which is currently at 4 per cent, acts as a distortion to the uniform tax structure at state level as it is imposed on inter-state sale of goods, whereas the purpose of VAT is to create a common market.

"It (CST phase out) may start from April 1, 2007 on the basis of full compensation package to state," VAT panel Chairman Asim Dasgupta said.

Mr Dasgupta, however, added CST phase out will be periodically reviewed to ensure that package of compensation remains in full. — PTI

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General insurance premium market to stabilise in 3 years
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 3
As the general insurance market gears itself up to the new detariffied, free-pricing regime that took effect on Monday, consumers expect premium rates to nosedive and stabilise in three years.

A nationwide survey by FICCI reveals that brokers as intermediaries are still not wholly acceptable for the corporate or individual clients in India.

While 80 per cent of the respondents give two-three years for the market to stabilise, a big majority (92 per cent) prefer to deal with insurance companies directly and 60 per cent opt for companies for expert advice rather than insurance brokers.

This fact has been noted by the Insurance Regulatory Authority of India, which is framing new guidelines for brokers.

Unhealthy competition in the market has also affected the professional image of brokers. Post-free pricing, markets would need expert advisory services which can be provided by brokers. However, 60 per cent of respondents would like to deal with the insurance company directly rather than dealing with the brokers and only 40 per cent would prefer to deal with brokers for expert advice post-free pricing.

Since the opening up of the insurance sector several private players, including foreign ones, have entered insurance business in India. In totality, India has about 16 players in life and 15 in the general insurance sector. 

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RPG Transmission gets Rs 193-cr Power Grid order

Mumbai, January 3
RPG Transmission, part of the Rs 9,500-crore RPG Enterprises, said today it has secured two orders worth Rs 193 crore from the Power Grid Corporation of India.

The first order is for supply and construction of a 203 km, 500 KV transmission line from Sultanpur to Kanpur in Uttar Pradesh, associated with Ballia-Bhiwadi transmission system, the company said.

The Rs 108-crore project would be completed by March 2009, it said.

The second is for the supply and construction of a 141 km, 765 KV transmission line from Tendukheda to Bina, associated with the Seoni-Bina Transmission system. The Rs 85-crore project would be completed by November 2008.

With these, RPG Transmission's total order book position stood at Rs 450 crore. — PTI

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SBI Life unveils Horizon II pension plan

Mumbai, January 3
SBI Life today unveiled the new Horizon II pension product, a unit-linked pension product aimed at offering greater retirement security to investors and retirees alike and it is hopeful of earning revenue, amounting to Rs 800-900 crore by the end of the current financial year.

Launching the new product here today, company’s MD and CEO S. Krishnamurthy said, “The new product is the pension variant of the existing Horizon pension product, which will be made available at the Net Asset Value (NAV) of Rs 10 each”.

Talking about the features of the new product, Mr Krishnamurthy said its uniqueness stems from the proprietary Automatic Asset Allocation (AAA), an algorithm-based active investment allocation mechanism, which is currently offered exclusively by SBI Life.

According to company Deputy CEO Pier-Paolo Dipaola, “The idea is to cater to the post-retirement needs of the people of the country whose number was growing today”.

One can start investing in the fund from a paltry sum of Rs 1,000 per month and no premium/top-up allocation would be charged on the fund from 11th year of operation onwards, he assured. — UNI 

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R Comm may raise funds from overseas

Mumbai, January 3
Reliance Communications, which is eyeing to acquire the country's fourth-largest mobile firm Hutch-Essar, said today it plans to raise funds through issue of securities in the international market.

A meeting of the company's Board of Directors would be held on January 10 to consider raising funds from international market, it said in a filing with the BSE.

The resources could be raised through issue of securities such as Foreign Currency Convertible Bonds or External Commercial Borrowings, RCom said.— PTI

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BRIEFLY

ATF price increased
New Delhi, January 3
Public sector oil firms have raised the aviation turbine fuel (ATF) price by over 4 per cent in line with a rise in the international oil prices. The ATF or jet fuel price for domestic airlines in Delhi has been raised by 4.4 per cent to Rs 37,746.92 per kilolitre while in Mumbai the price was hiked by Rs 1649.43 per kl to Rs 39,013.31 per kl, according to the Indian Oil Corp, the country's largest fuel retailer. For international airlines, which unlike domestic airlines do not pay local sales tax, the price in Delhi was raised from $620.62 to $648.22 per kl effective from December 1. In Mumbai, the hike was $27.38 per kl to $642.73. — PTI

DLF revives IPO process
New Delhi, January 3
Real estate giant DLF today filed a revised prospectus with SEBI for its much-awaited initial public offer that is being touted as the country's largest issue for raising more than Rs 10,500 crore. "DLF Ltd proposes to enter the capital market with a public issue of 17.5 crore equity shares of Rs 2 each through 100 per cent book-building process," the company said. — PTI

Spice mobile for Rs 900
Bangalore, January 3
Spice Telecom today announced to launch a low-cost `Janta' mobile phone for less than $20 (around Rs 900) by March this year. The company will initially target railway passengers to market the phone, according to Mr B.K. Modi, Chairman, MCorp Global, of which Spice Telecom is a part. "The price of such phones sold in railway stations would be lower by 10 to 15 per cent compared to the ones sold outside," he said today. — PTI

IOL ties up with BSNL
Mumbai, January 3
IOL Broadband said today it had tied up with BSNL to roll out its IPTV service. The company has started trials of its IPTV service launch on the BSNL broadband network in Bangalore, it said. BSNL has over 7,00,000 broadband ADSL subscribers all over India. — PTI 

Emami plan
Kolkata, January 3
The Emami Group said today it would infuse Rs 50-75 crore over the next two years for the expansion of its retail stores. "We will invest somewhere between Rs 50 crore and Rs 75 crore for setting up at least 10 new stores within the next two years," Emami Director Harsh V Agarwal said. The plan was drawn up after the group bought Trent Ltd's 50 per cent stake at the Landmark store here.— PTI

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