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WTO Doha Round
Remove trade-distorting subsidies: Pranab

New Delhi, March 12
India today asserted that the trade-distorting subsidies and protection, especially in agriculture, provided by a few developed countries needs to be eliminated for the successful completion of the ‘Doha Round’ negotiations and pointed out that there can be no “one size fits all” approach in the multilateral trade negotiations.

Software exports from region set to grow at 40 pc 
Chandigarh, March 12
The software exports from Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh are set to achieve a 40 per cent growth this financial year. As compared to a national average growth of 33 per cent, the growth in this region has been the highest across the country.

ESOPs business expense ‘not’ fringe benefit
New Delhi, March 12
The Assocham has suggested scrapping of the proposal to levy fringe benefit tax (FBT) on ESOPs or if it has to stay, should be redefined to avoid administrative complications and inevitable litigation.

Discourage iron ore export, says Assocham
New Delhi, March 12
Pooh-poohing the argument of the mining sector that imposition of export duty at the rate of Rs 300 per tonne on iron ore exports will erode exporters profitability, Assocham in a statement wondered, "why should India be exporting its precious raw materials without adding value".


Tag Heuer on Monday signed former Miss World and Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra as its brand ambassador
Tag Heuer on Monday signed former Miss World and Bollywood actress Priyanka Chopra as its brand ambassador. —Tribune photo by Mukesh Aggarwal




 
An employee of Sony dispays the company's new digital camera, "Cybershot DSC-G1", in Tokyo
An employee of Sony dispays the company's new digital camera, "Cybershot DSC-G1", in Tokyo on Monday. Equipped with a 6.2 mega-pixel CCD, a 6.33 - 19.0mm/F3.5 - 4.3 zoom lens and a 3.5-inch large and high-resolution LCD display, it allows to show a maximum of 100 pictures for browsing. — AFP photograph  

Bihar on corporate bigwigs’ radar
Patna, March 12
Bihar seemed to be finally catching the fancy of corporate bigwigs as the hitherto underdeveloped state is now experiencing a flurry of business activities for the promised turnaround under the new regime.

Free ring tones that never were
Notices to Airtel, Idea, Hutch

New Delhi, March 12
The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) has issued notices to mobile operators Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Hutchison on a complaint over downloading of ring tones.

Delay in commissioning services
Telcos may face penalty 

New Delhi, March 12
The government is likely to impose penalties of more than Rs 400 crore on telecom majors, including Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices and Bharti Airtel, for delay in commissioning of services after obtaining licences.

Chatwal plans hotel chain
New Delhi, March 11
Sant Singh Chatwal, a Sikh Indian-American businessman, will invest Rs 4,500 crore by 2009 for setting up a chain of hotels, including 7-star, in India.

‘No move to take over Bajaj Hindusthan’
Mumbai, March 12
Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj today said there was no intention to oust Shishir Bajaj from Bajaj Hindusthan, as alleged by his nephew Kushagra Bajaj, the CEO of Bajaj Hindusthan. The Rahul Bajaj group is apparently trying for a change in the boards of two group holding companies, Bajaj Sewashram and Jamnalal Sons, a move which the Shishir Bajaj group feels is aimed at removing the latter from Bajaj Hindusthan.

M&M’s open offer for 20 pc stake in PTL
New Delhi, March 12
Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M), which last week agreed to buy 43.3 per cent stake in Punjab Tractors Ltd (PTL), today made an open offer to acquire an additional 20 per cent in the target company, a deal that could in all cost Rs 1,391 crore.

Mukesh eyes mega takeover?
New Delhi, March 12
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, equipped with a war-chest of an estimated Rs 1,00,000 crore, is understood to be on a global hunt for acquiring a retail giant of the size of Wal-Mart or Tesco.

DGH chief biased: ONGC
New Delhi, March 12
ONGC has blamed DGH chief V.K. Sibal of causing a crash in the company’s shares by publicly rejecting a gas discovery contrary to upholding private sector claims in identical circumstances.

PNB plans Pak foray
New Delhi, March 12
Punjab National Bank (PNB) today said it plans to open branches in Pakistan.

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WTO Doha Round
Remove trade-distorting subsidies: Pranab
S. Satyanaryanan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 12
India today asserted that the trade-distorting subsidies and protection, especially in agriculture, provided by a few developed countries needs to be eliminated for the successful completion of the ‘Doha Round’ negotiations and pointed out that there can be no “one size fits all” approach in the multilateral trade negotiations.

New Delhi also made it clear that though it remained fully committed to the multilateral trading system, and to the successful and early completion of the negotiations under the Doha work programme of World Trade Organisation (WTO), proposals designed to impose a disproportionately higher burden on developing countries are not constructive and will not be acceptable.

“Agriculture remains critical to our collective interest. It is imperative that the trade-distorting subsidies and protection provided by a few developed countries are eliminated as soon as possible so that a truly level playing field can be established,” external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee said while kicking off the two-day international seminar on “Saving Doha and delivering on development”, here.

“Export subsidies of all forms must be eliminated by a certain date and domestic support substantially reduced under the Doha Round, in order to provide market access opportunities to all,” Mukherjee said in the presence of WTO director-general Pascal Lamy.

The two-day seminar is being hosted by the ministry of commerce and industry in association with the UNCTAD, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, OXFAM international, NCAER and CUTS international.

Commerce minister Kamal Nath said there can be no “one size fits all” approach in the WTO Doha Round of multilateral trade negotiations as different countries are in different stages of development.

“While it is important that the Doha Round negotiations are brought to a successful conclusion, it cannot be at the cost of its content, which is to ensure a clear balance between market opening and the development needs of the majority of the membership of the WTO,” he said.

Mr Nath also sought to remind the developed countries that the round was not just about providing market access to all countries, irrespective of their existing share of global trade.

“It is in the interest of developed countries to ensure healthy economies in countries of Asia and Africa by ensuring a level playing field. Otherwise, inequities of the existing system will hit trade flows from developed countries as people in developing countries will not have the purchasing power to buy goods and services from the developed world,” the commerce minister said.

While appreciating the renewed engagement and support at the highest political level between the US, EC, Brazil and India, Lamy made a desperate call for speeding up the negotiations.

“While this (talks between the US, EC, Brazil and India) can be helpful in contributing to progress, it is taking place at too slow a pace. Time is not on our side and many WTO members are becoming impatient. The multilateral process of negotiations must therefore kick-in at full speed, and the chairpersons of various negotiation groups must come into the centre stage,” the WTO chief said.

Underlining opportunities for development in the Doha Round, Lamy said “the objective was to improve multilateral disciplines and commitments by all member countries of the WTO in such a way as to establish a more level- playing field and provide developing countries with better conditions to enable them to reap the benefits of open trade.”

In agriculture, he said, in order to rebalance the multilateral trading system in favour of developing countries, we have already agreed that this round has to deliver “effective cuts” in trade-distorting agriculture subsidies in developed countries.

Parliamentary secretary for international trade of Canada Edward Menzies, speaking on behalf of Canada’s minister of international trade David Emerson, said “we all stand to gain from an improved access to global markets, whether for manufactured goods, agricultural products, services or natural resources.

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Software exports from region set to grow at 40 pc 
Ruchika M. Khanna
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 12
The software exports from Punjab, Haryana, and Chandigarh are set to achieve a 40 per cent growth this financial year. As compared to a national average growth of 33 per cent, the growth in this region has been the highest across the country.

Officials in the Software Technology Park of India (STPI) say the growth in this region has been fuelled largely by the growth of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the region, besides the expansion by the companies like Infosys, Dell, Quark and IDS Infotech.

According to statistics, total exports from Punjab, Chandigarh and Haryana (excluding the districts in NCR region) during this fiscal (till January 31, 2007) were Rs 417.97 crore as compared to Rs 292 crore during the same period last year. By the end of this financial year, the software exports from here are expected to reach Rs 600 crore, up from Rs 423 crore last year. The software exports from Haryana (including the NCR region, mainly from Gurgaon) alone contributed Rs 8,358 crore worth of software exports.

The main contributors in software exports comprise of Infosys (Rs 127 crore) , Dell (Rs 74 crore), Quark (Rs 65 crore), IDS (Rs 22 crore) and Second Foundation (Rs 20 crore).

Of the 258 companies registered with STPI in the region, 80 percent of these were SMEs,” said Dr Sanjay Tyagi, Director, STPI, Mohali. He said this year five new IT companies had set up their base here, which included Outline Systems, Packet Video, Ind Sigma Infotech, QA Infotech and Tech Tier IT Solutions.

The director-general of STPI, S N Zindal, informed TNS that last year the software exports from the country were to the tune of Rs 1,00,000 crore, and this year it was expected to be over Rs 1,30,000 crore. 

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ESOPs business expense ‘not’ fringe benefit
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 12
The Assocham has suggested scrapping of the proposal to levy fringe benefit tax (FBT) on ESOPs or if it has to stay, should be redefined to avoid administrative complications and inevitable litigation.

The chamber in a note to the finance ministry has stated that the basis of computing taxable value should be the grant price, which is in conformity with the current SEBI guidelines. The difference between the market price, as defined by SEBI on the date of the grant and the price at which the ESOPs are granted to the employees, should serve as the basis for computation of FBT.

Assocham feels the act of levying FBT clearly establishes the grant of ESOPs as a benefit extended by the employer and therefore, qualifies to be treated as an employee cost with the attendant advantage of tax deductibility. The taxable value of ESOPs for the purpose of FBT should be allowed as a deduction for computing the company’s taxable income. This will be in total conformity with the treatment currently being accorded to other items of expenditure being subjected to FBT.

The chamber has further stated that ESOPs cannot be deemed to be a fringe benefit. In fact, this position is clearly recognised in the current provisions of both Income Tax Act as well as SEBI guidelines.

SEBI guidelines stipulate that when ESOPs are granted at a discount to market price, the discount value needs to be charged as an expense in the company’s P&L account, thereby clearly recognising this item to be a business expense in the nature of employee costs and therefore, it cannot be treated as a fringe benefit.

The current provisions of the Income Tax Act seek to tax the employees for capital gains when underlying shares of an ESOP scheme are sold in the market at a price higher than the grant price. This again is a clear recognition that the benefit arising out of ESOP is in the nature of a capital gain brought about by stock market conditions, and not a fringe benefit conferred by the employer, it said.

Levying FBT on ESOPs would tantamount to taxing the same benefit twice, first in the hands of the company, and later in the hands of the employees which is clearly a violation of accepted canons of taxation, the chamber said.

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Discourage iron ore export, says Assocham
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 12
Pooh-poohing the argument of the mining sector that imposition of export duty at the rate of Rs 300 per tonne on iron ore exports will erode exporters profitability, Assocham in a statement wondered, "why should India be exporting its precious raw materials without adding value".

Complimenting finance minister P Chidambaram, Assocham president Venugopal N. Dhoot said, "Our endeavour should be to discourage export of any raw-materials and rather strengthen our manufacturing base to generate employment opportunities and create wealth for the Indian.”

He said India's iron ore exports range within nearly 100 MT per annum and the amount of Rs 3,000 crore to be generated out of the proposed levy should be utilised for long-term exploration and expansion needs of the domestic industry.

Assocham communication has also brought home the point that state-owned iron export company NMDC has declared 90 per cent operating profit in the financial year 2006-07 in spite of exports on long-term contracts. The majority of iron ore exports are on spot basis that indicates companies in this space are making even higher profits.

The increase of Rs 400-450 per tonne prices in the spot market is further going to swell the profitability of iron ore exporting companies.

On the other side, export duty of Rs 300 per tonne that has been proposed by finance minister in current budget would not have any dent in the profitability of iron ore exporters in the year 2007-08 as compared to 2006-07 rather it will witness an increase of Rs 150 per tonne of iron ore after reducing Rs 300 per tonne from the price increase of Rs 450 per tonne.

As per Assocham estimates, iron ore prices have registered unprecedented price increase since 2004-05 on the back of huge demand from China and buoyant steel industry.

The freight component for iron ore export from India to China is lower by $15-18 per tonne as compared to the freight from Brazil and Australia. This is why the spot iron ore prices have always been higher by $10-12 per tonne for export to China. Out of the 85 MT iron ore export to China in the year 2006, over 95 per cent were on spot basis.

The chamber has also suggested that iron ore security is vital as a developing nation like India would be producing and consuming over 250 million tonnes of steel in near future.

Various steel industries have already signed 140 MoUs for steel production, most of them are pending for execution due to non-availability of iron ore and land. 

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Bihar on corporate bigwigs’ radar
Tribune News Service

Patna, March 12
Bihar seemed to be finally catching the fancy of corporate bigwigs as the hitherto underdeveloped state is now experiencing a flurry of business activities for the promised turnaround under the new regime.

While Mahindra & Mahindra (M&M) is planning to set up a food processing plant in the state, Sonalika Tractors is all set to invest Rs 130 crore in a tractor plant.

Besides, Max Healthcare chairman Analjit Singh is also in talks to set up a multi-specialty hospital.

A senior official of the state investment promotion board said the state government already approved land allotment to Sonalika Tractors. “Other two proposals are being processed,” the official said.

M&M is planning to set up an agro-processing plant for litchi in Bihar. The state boasts of 71 per cent of country’s total litchi produce.

For enabling private sector investments in the state, the state government has created a land bank and set up a revolving fund of Rs 200 crore.

Tamil Nadu-based Indian Gasohol Ltd has proposed to pump in Rs 13,557 crore for the sugarcane sector in the state over the next 3-4 years.

The company would set up 10 distilleries for producing ethanol from sugarcane with a combined capacity of 54 lakh tonne annually. Each unit would have a crushing capacity of 25,000 tonne crushed daily (tcd).

State sugarcane minister Nitish Mishra said apart from ethanol, the mills would also generate 2000 MW of energy out of bagasse.

The proposed units are expected to provide direct employment to 50,000 people and indirect employment to two lakh people.

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Free ring tones that never were
Notices to Airtel, Idea, Hutch

New Delhi, March 12
The Monopolies and Restrictive Trade Practices Commission (MRTPC) has issued notices to mobile operators Bharti Airtel, Idea Cellular and Hutchison on a complaint over downloading of ring tones.

Taking cognisance of an advertisement claiming to provide free download of ring tones, MRTPC issued notice of enquiry against Airtel, Idea, Hutchison Essar Mobile Services and Hutchison Essar South Ltd. The commission also issued a notice to Bangalore-based telecom value-added solution provider Onmobile Asia Pacific.

The bench headed by chairman justice O.P. Dwivedi has directed the telecom operators and Onmobile along with media house Jagran Prakashan, which published the advertisement, to file replies within four weeks.

The commission issued the notice after its investigative arm director-general of investigation and registration (DGIR) in its preliminary investigation report found that the operators, Jagran and Onmobile were using unfair trade practices.

The MRTPC had directed DGIR to look into the issue after it received a complaint from one Mohinder Singh Arya, who had alleged these companies were charging money despite claiming downloading free tones.

According to Arya, when he downloaded a tone from his cell phone, it cost him around Rs 25 per minute. Later, he found the telecom company was charging for downloads. The fee was written in small fonts in the advertisement, he said. — PTI

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Delay in commissioning services
Telcos may face penalty 

New Delhi, March 12
The government is likely to impose penalties of more than Rs 400 crore on telecom majors, including Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices and Bharti Airtel, for delay in commissioning of services after obtaining licences.

Reliance Communication tops the list with proposed liquidated damages of Rs 147 crore, followed by Tata Teleservices with Rs 126 crore, official sources said, adding the telecom commission is likely to take a decision soon.

“None of the new unified access service licensees as well as those who migrated from basic services licences, submitted the required certificate within one year of the effective date of licence with 90 per cent coverage in street as well as in building,” the DoT note said.

The telecom commission had earlier estimated the damages at Rs 406 crore, which has now undergone a change due to lowering of penalty per circle, the sources said. The total damages are now estimated at Rs 400.15 crore for 58 circles.

RCoM has failed to submit the required certificate for 21 circles whereas Tata Teleservices has defaulted in 18 circles and Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) in two circles. The combined penlaty of Tata Teleservices and Tata Teleservices (Maharashtra) Ltd comes to Rs 140 crore.

Bharti Airtel may also have to pay Rs 42 crore, sources said, adding the company has delayed in commissioning of services in six circles. Other players facing the penalty are Dishnet Wireless Ltd, HFCL Infotel and Shyam Telelink. — PTI

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Chatwal plans hotel chain

New Delhi, March 11
Sant Singh Chatwal, a Sikh Indian-American businessman, will invest Rs 4,500 crore by 2009 for setting up a chain of hotels, including 7-star, in India.

All hotels will be state-of-the-art with different food restaurants, discotheques and conference rooms. “We want to create convention centres with a capacity for 2,000-3,000 persons in every hotel,” Chatwal, president and CEO of Hampshire Hotels and Resorts (HHR), said.

He said he had already acquired land in Bangalore, Noida, Kochi and Hyderabad. 
— PTI 

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‘No move to take over Bajaj Hindusthan’

Mumbai, March 12
Bajaj Auto chairman Rahul Bajaj today said there was no intention to oust Shishir Bajaj from Bajaj Hindusthan, as alleged by his nephew Kushagra Bajaj, the CEO of Bajaj Hindusthan.

The Rahul Bajaj group is apparently trying for a change in the boards of two group holding companies, Bajaj Sewashram and Jamnalal Sons, a move which the Shishir Bajaj group feels is aimed at removing the latter from Bajaj Hindusthan.

Kushagra had alleged that the Rahul Bajaj group was trying to take over Bajaj Hindusthan and Bajaj Consumer Care from his father Shishir Bajaj.

Bajaj said in Bajaj Hindusthan and Bajaj Consumer Care, the equity structure was such that "we hold controlling stakes there and we could have thrown out Shishir Bajaj, if we had so desired, but that is not our intention."

On the issue of the 1.9 pc shares of Bajaj Hindusthan, which Bajaj Auto has acquired, Rahul Bajaj said, "this was done in the normal course of business. Bajaj Auto has Rs 8,500 crore of cash and we keep buying and selling shares in the normal course of business. The 1.9 pc shares were bought as a part of our treasury operations," he said. — PTI 

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M&M’s open offer for 20 pc stake in PTL

New Delhi, March 12
Mahindra and Mahindra (M&M), which last week agreed to buy 43.3 per cent stake in Punjab Tractors Ltd (PTL), today made an open offer to acquire an additional 20 per cent in the target company, a deal that could in all cost Rs 1,391 crore.

The offer was made on the same terms the company had given to private equity firms Actis and Mohit Burman for acquiring their 29 per cent and 14.3 per cent stake, respectively.

The offer will open on May 3 and close on May 22, Kotak Mahindra Capital (manager to the open offer on behalf of M&M) said.

After the transaction, M&M would have 63.3 per cent control of the company and at the price of Rs 360 a share, the acquisition could cost an estimated Rs 1,391 crore. It would also full management control of PTL, which makes tractors under the brand “Swaraj”.

Going by the price of Rs 360 per share for the 43.3 per cent stake representing 2.63 crore shares in PTL for which M&M on March 9 signed a deal, the enterprise value of Punjab Tractors is pegged at a whopping Rs 2,187 crore. — PTI

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Mukesh eyes mega takeover?

New Delhi, March 12
Reliance Industries chairman Mukesh Ambani, equipped with a war-chest of an estimated Rs 1,00,000 crore, is understood to be on a global hunt for acquiring a retail giant of the size of Wal-Mart or Tesco.

Listed as world’s 14th richest person by Forbes, Ambani is believed to have let loose his advisers to scout the globe, hoping to market India’s agriculture produce, including fruits and vegetables, that could fetch much higher value abroad than the domestic market.

After the merger of group company IPCL with flagship RIL, the Indian business tycoon is believed to have created a trust with cash up to Rs 25,000 crore, which could be doubled with other investors for leveraging the equivalent debt for global acquisitions, a source in the know of the development said.

“Why should Mukesh Ambani not go global when international companies are looking toward India’s retail market... he is looking for a global acquisition of a chain like Wal-Mart, Tesco or Carrefour,” he said. — PTI

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DGH chief biased: ONGC

New Delhi, March 12
ONGC has blamed DGH chief V.K. Sibal of causing a crash in the company’s shares by publicly rejecting a gas discovery contrary to upholding private sector claims in identical circumstances.

Alleging a bias, ONGC chairman R.S. Sharma has written to the oil ministry, saying Sibal’s media announcement had led to ONGC’s share price crash from Rs 906 to Rs 796.

“The resultant loss in the market cap has been of the order of Rs 23,527 crore,” he wrote.
Sibal had last month disallowed discovery of natural gas off the Andhra coast. Sibal said he wasn’t aware of the complaint. Sharma, however, sought an independent inquiry. — PTI

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PNB plans Pak foray
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 12
Punjab National Bank (PNB) today said it plans to open branches in Pakistan.

"We already have got approval from our board for opening branches in Pakistan and applied to Reserve Bank for regulatory approvals," PNB Chairman and Managing Director S C Gupta, told newspersons after inaugurating an ATM centre at Birla Mandir here.

The Bank would approach Pakistani authorities for the approval once RBI give regulatory clearances, he said.

“We are interested in opening a branch in Karachi and another in Lahore,” Gupta said when asked in which cities of Pakistan the bank was interested in opening a branch.

Opening up of branches in the neighbouring country would promote goodwill and cement our relationship, he said. The bank had 23 branches in Pakistan before partition.

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BRIEFLY

EDS acquires RelQ Software
Bangalore, March 12
Global technology service provider, EDS has said it has reached a definitive agreement to acquire Bangalore-based software testing firm RelQ Software Private Ltd. The New York Stock Exchange-listed company said today the acquisition would accelerate its existing global software testing, validation and verification services for enterprise clients. EDS said over time, the privately owned RelQ would be fully integrated into EDS’ global testing organisation. RelQ is a certified ISO 9001-2000 software testing company, providing solutions to banking, financial services, telecom and consumer electronics industries. — PTI

RIL gas find
New Delhi, March 12
Reliance Industries Ltd has said it has made two new natural gas discoveries in its east coast blocks. “These are in the well KG-D6-P2 in block KG-DWN-98/3 (KG-D6), and in the well NEC 25-A5 in block NEC-OSN-97/2 (NEC- 25),” the company said today. RIL successfully completed drilling of well KG-D6-P2, the 22nd exploratory well in KG-D6. “This well lies... about 6 km west of the earlier P1 natural gas discovery (Dhirubhai 23). The well encountered two gas-bearing zones.” “Both these zones are channel fan complexes. The data obtained from logging and modular dynamic testing (MDT) corroborates the presence of hydrocarbons. — PTI

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