SPECIAL COVERAGE
CHANDIGARH

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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS

B U S I N E S S

Iran willing to sell LNG to private Cos
New Delhi, March 14
Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) and Ruias-owned Essar group are separately holding negotiations with Iran to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG), which the Islamic nation was to sell to public sector firms under a government-to-government deal signed in June 2005.

Essar to ramp up telecom retail biz
New Delhi, March 14
Essar Group, which is in talks with Vodafone over a stake in Hutch-Essar, will pump in Rs 1,125-1,350 crore ($250-300 million) over the next three years in its telecom retail venture.
Former Indian cricket captain Kapil Dev at the launch of ‘The Mobile Store’ in New Delhi on Wednesday
Former Indian cricket captain Kapil Dev at the launch of ‘The Mobile Store’ in New Delhi on Wednesday. — AFP photo

Vodafone, Essar reach pact
Deal to be signed today
New Delhi, March 14
Arun Sarin, CEO of Vodafone which successfully bid for majority stake in domestic mobile firm Hutch-Essar, will visit India tomorrow to ink a deal with Indian partner Essar on management and organisational issues. Nearly a month after the UK firm clinched a deal for acquiring Hong Kong-based Hutchison Telecom International's controlling stake in HEL, Sarin will announce the terms and conditions of the partnership with Ruias-promoted Essar, which holds 33 per cent stake in the joint venture.



Hollywood actress Ashley Judd at the award giving function in Mumbai on Tuesday night.—PTI
Hollywood actress Ashley Judd at the award giving function in Mumbai on Tuesday night.—PTI

EARLIER STORIES

 

 
A man dressed as a cartoon character Garfield distributes the advertisement leaflets in Chengdu, China's southwestern province of Sichuan, on Wednesday. Chinese retail sales rose 14.7 per cent in the first two months of 2007 compared with a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said, while retail sales — the main measure for consumer spending — hit $190 billion during January and February
A man dressed as a cartoon character Garfield distributes the advertisement leaflets in Chengdu, China's southwestern province of Sichuan, on Wednesday. Chinese retail sales rose 14.7 per cent in the first two months of 2007 compared with a year earlier, the National Bureau of Statistics said, while retail sales — the main measure for consumer spending — hit $190 billion during January and February. — AFP photo

IBM to invest $6 b
New Delhi, March 14
US technology giant IBM has said it will invest $6 billion in India by 2009. “We have invested $2 billion (in the past three years). We will spend $6 billion by 2009,” Frank Kern, IBM president of Asia Pacific, told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a roundtable organised by The Economist magazine here.

ITC forays into snacks biz, lines up Rs 350 cr
New Delhi, March 14
Eyeing the Rs 2000 crore market in India, corporate giant ITC today made its foray into the fast growing branded snacks segment by launching its new snacks brand ‘Bingo’.

Chinese firm plans $651-m JV in India
Beijing, March 14
China's second largest aluminium maker has got the green light for a five-billion-yuan ($651 million) joint venture with an Indian company to produce alumina, state media reported today.

Carrier launches energy-efficient ACs
New Delhi, March 14
Airconditioning and refrigeration company Carrier today launched its new range of energy-efficient split and window ACs priced between Rs 20,000 and Rs 40,000.

Bajaj Electricals buys 32 pc in Starlite
Mumbai, March 14
Shekhar Bajaj-headed Bajaj Electricals Limited (BEL) has acquired a 32 per cent stake in Nasik-based Starlite Lighting Limited, for an undisclosed amount.

Markfed told to explore trade with Pak
Chandigarh, March 14
Markfed has been asked to prepare an action plan to export fresh vegetables among other items to Central Asia and Pakistan through Wagah border. Cooperation minister Capt Kanwaljit Singh said the move would boost the economy of the state and provide more employment opportunities.

‘Efforts to curb cement prices may fail’
New Delhi, March 14
The government has said efforts to control cement prices through differential tax structure could fail, while renewing its appeal to manufacturers to roll back the post-Budget hike.

HP drug makers flay new licensing policy
Solan, March 14
In a move that has complicated the system of seeking licences for manufacturing drugs, the state government has now introduced a three-tier system wherein a triple-member licensing authority would first examine each proposal and the same would then be referred to the health secretary. The final approval would, however, be granted by the authority.

Copyright violation
Viacom sues YouTube for $1 b

New York, March 14
In a clash of giants, media conglomerate Viacom is suing popular video sharing website YouTube and its parent Google for more than $1 billion, accusing the ambitious online portal of “massive international copyright violation”. Though other entertainment companies too have complained against copyright violations, this is first time that a lawsuit has been filed, challenging the strategy of web search engine to dominate video market to earn hefty advertisement revenue.

Cement production growth falls
New Delhi, March 14
The growth in production of the crucial construction material, cement, slowed down in the first 10 months of this fiscal.

 

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India shares drop more than 3 percent on US.
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Iran willing to sell LNG to private Cos

New Delhi, March 14
Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (ADAG) and Ruias-owned Essar group are separately holding negotiations with Iran to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG), which the Islamic nation was to sell to public sector firms under a government-to-government deal signed in June 2005.

The IOC-GAIL-BPCL combine in June 2005 signed a $22-billion deal to import 5 million tonnes of LNG from Iran beginning 2010. However, the new government in Tehran has refused to honour the deal unless a higher price is paid and has opened dialogue with private sector firms to sell the gas.

Sources said Iran has sent feelers to the Indian government seeking transfer of the volumes committed in June 2005 to private firms.

Tehran has told the petroleum ministry that if the Indian state-run firms cannot reopen the June 2005 contract, New Delhi should endorse the deal in favour of private firms.

When contacted, petroleum minister Murli Deora said Iranian Ambassador to India met him yesterday with a request that National Iranian Oil Company (NIOC) be permitted to negotiate the June 2005 volumes with private sector.

"We have told them that first they should honour the government-to-government contract. They are most welcome to sell additional volumes to private companies," he said.

Deora said Anil Ambani Group, which needs at least 7 million tonnes of LNG for its proposed 7,000 MW Dadri power plant in Uttar Pradesh, is talking to Iran for the fuel.

Deora, however, did not say what actions New Delhi can take if Iran refused to honour the June 2005 deal in favour of Indian Oil-GAIL-Bharat Petroleum combine.

"We are for government-to-government deal... but there is a possibility of (LNG) sale to a consortium of private and public sector companies," Iran's Ambassador to India Siyavash Zargar Yaghoubi said without elaborating.

While the price being negotiated by ADAG and Essar was not known, sources said New Delhi was willing to pay a price 50 per cent higher than the one agreed in June last year for the deal entered into by Indian Oil-GAIL-Bharat Petroleum combine. — PTI

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Essar to ramp up telecom retail biz

New Delhi, March 14
Essar Group, which is in talks with Vodafone over a stake in Hutch-Essar, will pump in Rs 1,125-1,350 crore ($250-300 million) over the next three years in its telecom retail venture and is expecting revenues to the tune of Rs 5,000 crore.

“We will invest $250-300 million over the next three years to set up 2,500 ‘The MobileStore’ outlets across the country,” Essar Telecom Retail CEO Rajiv Agarwal said.

The company would also increase its head count by 10 fold to 10,000 in the next three years from the current 1,000. The company is aiming to garner about 15 per cent market share in this space with a top line of Rs 4,000-5,000 crore in the next three years, he added.

The multi-service outlets, “The MobileStore”, would offer handsets, mobile accessories, new connections, value-added services, after sales support and bill payment facilities.

“The country’s mobile market stands at Rs 35,000 crore and is growing at an annual rate of 60 per cent. With this huge market, we expect to have 10-15 per cent market share,” Agarwal said.

The company currently has 60 outlets across India, including 21 in Delhi. “We are also looking at opening up of 4,000 touch points in the form of stores, kiosks and shop-in-shops,” he added. — PTI

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Vodafone, Essar reach pact
Deal to be signed today

New Delhi, March 14
Arun Sarin, CEO of Vodafone which successfully bid for majority stake in domestic mobile firm Hutch-Essar, will visit India tomorrow to ink a deal with Indian partner Essar on management and organisational issues.

Nearly a month after the UK firm clinched a deal for acquiring Hong Kong-based Hutchison Telecom International's controlling stake in HEL, Sarin will announce the terms and conditions of the partnership with Ruias-promoted Essar, which holds 33 per cent stake in the joint venture.

The two firms have also agreed to rename HEL as Vodafone Essar, which would start selling its products and services under the Vodafone brand in due course.

Under the terms of partnership believed to have been agreed by the two firms, Vodafone would have operational control of Vodafone Essar and Ruias would have rights, such as board representation, in accordance with their 33 per cent equity.

Ravi Ruia is likely to be appointed chairman of Vodafone Essar board, while Sarin would be named vice-chairman.

Following the completion of HTIL's stake sale, which is expected in the next few weeks, Vodafone would get a controlling stake of 51.57 per cent in the venture, while Essar Group would continue to retain its 33.02 per cent. — PTI

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IBM to invest $6 b

New Delhi, March 14
US technology giant IBM has said it will invest $6 billion in India by 2009. “We have invested $2 billion (in the past three years). We will spend $6 billion by 2009,” Frank Kern, IBM president of Asia Pacific, told Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during a roundtable organised by The Economist magazine here.

Kern, who sought to know India’s strategy to build a skilled workforce, came in for a mild embarrassment when the Prime Minister said in a lighter vein that the company left India when he was finance secretary in 1970s.

The PM said he was happy that the company was now back in the country.

He said India had targeted earmarking 6 per cent of the GDP for education in the next five years as against the current level of 3.9 per cent. — PTI

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ITC forays into snacks biz, lines up Rs 350 cr
S. Satyanarayanan
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 14
Eyeing the Rs 2000 crore market in India, corporate giant ITC today made its foray into the fast growing branded snacks segment by launching its new snacks brand ‘Bingo’.

The company is likely to invest about Rs 350 crore in the next three-four years through its foods division for a foray into the snacks segment, which includes setting up of about three new manufacturing plants across the country.

It has ambitious marketing plans to tap the estimated Rs 100 crore market in Punjab and will be formally launching its snack brand in Ludhiana this weekend.

“Though we are not planning to set up any snacks plant in Punjab, as we can cater to the market from our plant near Haridwar, we definitely see a lot of potential in north India, especially in Punjab for our product,” ITC Foods Division divisional chief executive Ravi Naware told The Tribune after launching ‘Bingo’ here.

“In a couple of years, we will be investing Rs 150 crore for our foray into the snacks segment. Already, we have invested about Rs 60-70 crore,” ITC divisional chief executive Ravi Naware said.

He said in the next one year one more plant would be set up to add to its existing snacks plant near Haridwar.

“Besides, in the next three to four years we are looking at having two more plants to have complete presence in all regions of the country,” Naware said, adding each new plant could cost between Rs 70-100 crore.

The company today launched its snacks brand “Bingo”, which comes in 16 different flavours and is eyeing 25 per cent market share of the Rs 2,000 crore organised snacks market in the next 4-5 years.

ITC has also undertaken a reclassification of its ready-to-eat and to-be-cooked foods under “Kitchens of India” and “Aashirvaad” brands, respectively, as it looks to rev up the business in this segment.

Neware said overall, the foods business clocked about 60 per cent growth last year and was looking to maintain similar levels.

ITC’s biscuits business clocked 60 per cent last year, cornering about 8 per cent market share, Neware said.

Commenting on the promotion plans of its new segment, “Bingo” snacks, Neware said the company would be looking to leverage on the ongoing cricket world cup although he declined to disclose ad spends.

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Chinese firm plans $651-m JV in India

Beijing, March 14
China's second largest aluminium maker has got the green light for a five-billion-yuan ($651 million) joint venture with an Indian company to produce alumina, state media reported today.

The National Development and Reform Commission, China's top planning agency, has approved Qingtongxia Aluminium Group's proposal to set up an alumina mining and processing joint venture in India, the Shanghai Securities News said.

Qingtongxia, based in the northern Ningxia region, will have a 50 per cent share in the project with India's Ashapura Minechem Co.

The facility will have a capacity of one million tonnes annually, according to the report. — AFP

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Carrier launches energy-efficient ACs
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 14
Airconditioning and refrigeration company Carrier today launched its new range of energy-efficient split and window ACs priced between Rs 20,000 and
Rs 40,000.

The company's new range has been labelled as per Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) norms for star rating which certifies electric products as per their energy consumption.

"Our new line is labelled between one to five star rating, making them much more energy efficient than the non-certified products. We have pioneered use of energy efficient technology and are launching are BEE certified ahead of the official deadline in June," Carrier Indian managing director Zubin Irani told reporters here.

Bureau of Energy Efficiency, a statutory body under the power ministry, is planning to make it mandatory for air-conditioner makers to manufacture products based on energy-efficient star rating and has set a deadline of June to comply with these norms.

"The star labelled products would be initially expensive by as much as Rs 6,000 but would recover the additional costs within one year of operations as their power consumption would be much lower," Irani said.

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Bajaj Electricals buys 32 pc in Starlite

Mumbai, March 14
Shekhar Bajaj-headed Bajaj Electricals Limited (BEL) has acquired a 32 per cent stake in Nasik-based Starlite Lighting Limited, for an undisclosed amount.

"We have bought a 32 per cent stake in Starlite and will have equal representation (three members) on its board. We retain the option to increase our stake over a period of time," Shekhar Bajaj, CMD, BEL, said here today.

The company has bought 40 lakh shares of the firm, he said, however, declined to give the valuation of the deal.

Starlite is a player in the CFL segment with its Nasik facility having an installed capacity of 10 million pieces per annum. — PTI

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Markfed told to explore trade with Pak
Tribune News Service

Chandigarh, March 14
Markfed has been asked to prepare an action plan to export fresh vegetables among other items to Central Asia and Pakistan through Wagah border. Cooperation minister Capt Kanwaljit Singh said the move would boost the economy of the state and provide more employment opportunities.

Presiding over a meeting of Markfed, the minister said cooperatives were the growth engines for nation building.

G.S. Grewal, managing director, Markfed, said the grain testing state-of-the-art laboratory at Ropar would be upgraded shortly to food testing lab with an investment of Rs 1.43 crore to be provided by the central government.

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‘Efforts to curb cement prices may fail’

New Delhi, March 14
The government has said efforts to control cement prices through differential tax structure could fail, while renewing its appeal to manufacturers to roll back the post-Budget hike.

“The different excise slabs were mooted to check the prices as it has been successful in one state in the past. We may succeed or not succeed in our objective,” finance minister P Chidambaram told the Rajya Sabha.

He was replying to his predecessor and senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha, who said that the cement manufacturers had rebuffed the government by raising prices thus defeating the very purpose of the move.

“We will still appeal to the cement manufacturers to control prices,” Chidambaram said, adding that the government had to act the way it did as prices of cement had risen by 40 per cent in the past one year.

Sinha said while commerce and industry minister Kamal Nath had managed to force the cement companies to freeze prices, the finance minister did not have the clout to call them and ask them to reduce prices.

Cement manufacturers had hiked prices by Rs 12 per bag of 50 kg following the budgetary proposal to increase excise duty on the construction material by Rs 200 per tonne to Rs 600 on cement sold at a retail price of over Rs 190 per bag.

Chidambaram, during his Budget speech on February 28, had, however, proposed reduction of duty by Rs 50 per tonne to Rs 350 on cement sold at up to Rs 190 per bag.

Though manufacturers agreed to hold the existing price line for one year, they said it was not possible to roll back the hike without duty concessions. — PTI

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HP drug makers flay new licensing policy
Our Correspondent

Solan, March 14
In a move that has complicated the system of seeking licences for manufacturing drugs, the state government has now introduced a three-tier system wherein a triple-member licensing authority would first examine each proposal and the same would then be referred to the health secretary. The final approval would, however, be granted by the authority.

A notification (No. HFW-B(A)2-1/82) to this effect was issued by the department of health and family welfare on March 2. The manufacturers are terming this notification as an attempt to seek control over the lucrative industry worth crores by the state government.

The move has drawn ire of the manufacturers. President of HP Drug Manufacturers Association R.K.Arora said, “This notification was uncalled for as it has made the hitherto simple system complex. While this would dissuade the manufacturers from investing in the state, it has belied the hopes of our association as we had been promised no changes in the existing system by the chief minister himself”.

He added that the inimical policies of the state government like introduction of tax on per kilogram of drugs and now this system were discouraging the manufacturers who preferred to invest in Uttarakhand now. With a simpler system of licensing in Uttarakhand the government facilitated an investor there.

Interestingly, the government has issued this notification suppressing its earlier notification of December 26, 2006, wherein a multi-member committee was authorised to scrutinise, issue and grant licences to retail and wholesale counters only.

A senior official of the department said, “The changes have been brought about to make the system simple and to enable the department know as to how many drug firms are seeking licences in the state”. He agreed that the authority failed to meet even once ever since it was constituted in October 2006. 

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Copyright violation
Viacom sues YouTube for $1 b

New York, March 14
In a clash of giants, media conglomerate Viacom is suing popular video sharing website YouTube and its parent Google for more than $1 billion, accusing the ambitious online portal of “massive international copyright violation”. Though other entertainment companies too have complained against copyright violations, this is first time that a lawsuit has been filed, challenging the strategy of web search engine to dominate video market to earn hefty advertisement revenue.

The outcome of the suit, filed in a US court, would be closely watched as this could have profound effect on the future functioning of the information sharing websites.

The suit alleges that about 1,60,000 clips of Viacom Entertainment programme have been uploaded on the site and viewed more than 1.5 billion times.

Viacom owns Paramount Pictures, Dream Works and several cable channels, including the MTV and Comedy Central.

It is seeking an injunction against YouTube to end copyright infringement as also damages worth more than $1 billion.

In the complaint, Viacom charged YouTube with “brazen disregard” of the intellectual property laws, which it said fundamentally threatened not just Viacom but the “economic underpinning of one of the most important sectors of the US economy”. But Google insisted that YouTube respected copyright and said, “We will certainly not let his suit become a distraction to continuing growth and strong performance of YouTube”. — PTI

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Cement production growth falls
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, March 14
The growth in production of the crucial construction material, cement, slowed down in the first 10 months of this fiscal.

According to official figures released today, cement production grew by 9.5 per cent at 131.88 million tonnes during April-January 2006-07, against 11.4 per cent a year ago.

Production growth in cement slowed down by more than half to 6.8 per cent in January against 15.4 per cent in the same month last year.

In absolute terms, cement production stood at 14.5 million tonnes in January 2007 against 13.57 million tonnes in January 2006 and 11.76 million tonnes in January 2005, it said.

This fiscal, cement production growth slowed down in five of the 10 months, figures of which are available.

Besides January, growth in cement production was lower in May, June, August and December.

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BRIEFLY

Tata Steel awarded
Mumbai, March 14
The US-India Business Council (USIBC) has conferred the 'Award for corporate social responsibility in public health' to domestic steel major, Tata Steel. Managing director of the company B Muthuraman received the award from Hollywood star Ashley Judd at a programme late last evening. — PTI

Spice outlets
New Delhi, March 14
Spice Group’s multi-brand technology retail chain “Hot Spot Retails” said today it would invest Rs 500 crore over the next two years in setting up 1,500 outlets. “We are planning to take the number of our Hot Spots to 400 by the end of this year and 1,500 by 2008 end with an investment of Rs 500 crore,” Hot Spot Retails Private Ltd vice-chairman Dilip Modi said. — PTI

Biocon tie-up
Mumbai, March 14
Biocon said today its subsidiary Syngene had entered into a research partnership with global pharma major Bristol-Myers Squibb. Through this symbiotic global partnership, Biocon’s Syngene would provide R&D services for discovery and early drug development. — PTI

DuPont plans
New Delhi, March 14
Science-based products and services provider DuPont will invest Rs 100 crore each year in its upcoming knowledge centre at Hyderabad, being built at the same outlay. “We are investing an amount of Rs 100 crore for building the knowledge centre. Almost a similar amount will be required every year in maintaining and running the facility,” said Balvinder Singh Kalsi, president and CEO of DuPont India. — UNI

Kotak Insurance
Amritsar, March 14
Kotak Life Insurance plans to increase its branch network to 82 by the end of this fiscal and would double it agency force from the current 20,000 as the company was anticipating a total premium of Rs 1,000 crore by next financial year. Gaurang Shah, managing director, said this during the inauguration of a new branch here. — TNS

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