Week in Review

Updated: Dec 29 2002, 05:30am hrs
TELECOM
Reliance Infocomm Launches Its Services
On Friday, Reliance Infocomm announced the launch of its limited mobility telecom service, seeking to provide the facility in 673 towns and cities across the country, with three schemes including a unique three-year Dhirubhai Ambani pioneer offer at Rs 3,000.

We will commence demonstrations of the service on January 15 and begin bookings by February. We expect to start the commercial operation in February or March, Reliance Industries chairman and managing director Mukesh Ambani told reporters at the Dhirubhai Ambani Knowledge City (DAKC) in Navi Mumbai.

Eventually, the wireless in local loop (WLL) facility would connect all the 6,40,000 villages and 2,000 odd towns and cities to each other and to the world in a seamless way, he said, adding the service based on Code Division Multiple Access (CDMA) platform would provide messaging, business transactions, videoconferencing, music download and movie download services.

Referring to the pioneer offer, the booking for which ends in March, he said among other things the subscribers would get one free digital mobile phone worth Rs 10,500, unlimited free incoming calls, 15 second pulse rate and free outgoing calls for 400 minutes.

POLARIS
Jain Returns Home
Arun Jain, chief executive officer of Polaris, returned home week after a 12-day ordeal in Indonesia. Mr Jain along with Rajiv Malhotra (head of Polariss banking products division) were detained and prevented from leaving Bank Artha Grahas premises in Jakarta. They had gone to resolve a commercial dispute with the bank. Subsequently Mr Jain, Mr Malhotra and two other Polaris officials were taken into custody by the local police on charges of fraud and embezzlement filed by the bank.

During the middle of this year, Polaris had entered into an agreement with Bank Artha Graha covering central processing, disaster recovery and branch server related work. On November 27 this year, the bank served a notice on Polaris for breach of contract. Polaris responded to the statement telling that the grounds of termination were incorrect.

The Indian government has given a guarantee to its Indonesian counterparts that Mr Jain and Mr Malhotra will be made available whenever they are wanted in respect of the case.

KELKAR REPORT
Kelkar Submits Final Report
The Kelkar taskforce on direct and indirect taxes submitted its final report to finance minister Jaswant Singh. The report on direct taxes has watered down some of the recommendations pertaining to housing loans and other exemptions in personal income tax.

The panel retained its earlier proposal to tax agricultural incomes of non-agriculturists despite criticism from different political parties including BJP.

The main highlights of the report with respect to direct taxes are that income tax limits should be hiked to Rs 1 lakh from Rs 50,000. Further, two slabs of 20 per cent for income between Rs 1 and Rs 4 lakh and 30 per cent beyond Rs 4 lakh is proposed. The task force has also proposed that standard deduction should be eliminated. Deduction for interest payment on housing loan has been proposed to be cut to Rs 50,000 instead of being abolished as per the earlier proposal. The task force said that corporate tax should be 30 per cent while recommending lifting of dividend and capital gains tax.

On the indirect taxes front, the taskforce recommended that customs duties should be reduced to 10 per cent for raw materials, inputs and intermediate goods and to 20 per cent for consumer durables by 2004-05. Further, customs duty for coal, ores and other raw material should be reduced to five per cent, capital goods, basic chemicals to eight per cent by 2006-07. Custom duty on crude oil should be reduced to eight per cent and 15 per cent for petroleum products by 2003-04 and further to 5 and 10 per cent respectively by 2004-05.

RAILWAYS
Vajpayee Launches New Rail Projects
Prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee launched three major railway projects under the Rs 15,000 crore Rashtriya Rail Vikas Yojana (RRVY) in Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat through satellite link, last week.

Like the development of roads and highways, these projects would go a long way to strengthen, expand and modernise the rail network, said the Prime Minster after inaugurating the three projects from his official residence.

RRVY plans to strengthen the golden quadrilateral network between the four metros, which carry nearly 55 per cent of passenger traffic and two-thirds of goods. This project is expected to be completed in the next five years.

Stating that it was now possible to raise financial resources through means other than budgetary, the prime minister said the Railways could make use of these means to raise finances for these big projects. No project should languish for want of resources, he asserted.

In his speech, railway minister Nitish Kumar said the Asian Development Bank had only last week cleared a loan of $313.6 million for these rail projects. He said the process of setting up of a special purpose vehicle for running of the RRVY called Rail Vikas Nigam was already on and was expected to be operationalised soon.

Mr Kumar said the RRVY included projects to ensure higher speed of mail/express and freight trains, providing rail connectivity to ports and development of corridors to the hinterland, construction of four mega bridges and accelerated completion of other important projects.

NARESH CHANDRA PANEL
New Measures On The Anvil
The committee on corporate governance headed by Naresh Chandra has suggested far reaching measures in its report submitted to the finance minister.

The committee has said that there is no need for any statutory rotation of audit firms. The committee also felt that compulsory rotation of an audit partner every five years should suffice. It has also called for a greater role for independent directors on the board.

Other suggestions pertain to increasing the level of disclosures made by a company and its auditors as well as overhauling the disciplinary mechanism for audit and related professionals.

Another highlight of the report is the setting up of a Corporate Serious Fraud Office (CSFO) which should help in directing and supervising prosecutions under various economic legislations through appropriate agencies.

However, the government will have to amend the Chartered Accountants Act 1949 and the Companies Act 1956 for implementing many of the recommendations made by the Naresh Chandra committee. But several recommendations can be brought into effect only through notification of guidelines by the finance and company affairs ministry.

DIAMOND TRADE
Conflict Diamonds To Lose Their Lustre
From 1st January 2003, a new international agreement will make it mandatory for all countries trading in rough diamonds to certify that they have not originated from African countries experiencing armed warfare.

This new UN-mandated agreement is called the Kimberley Process Diamond Certification scheme and has been adopted by 50 countries across the globe including India.

This agreement will ensure that rebels and warring factions in West African countries like Angola, Sierra Leone and the Democratic Republic of Congo cannot illegally mine and trade diamonds to finance their arms purchases.

India polishes 9 out of 10 rough diamonds in the world and the country will have to ensure that from 1st January no rough diamond can enter the country without the requisite KPC certificate.

Through the KPC scheme, a formal network is proposed to be created between the diamond mines, manufacturers and traders.

But this new scheme may hit Surats diamond cutters hard as nearly two-thirds of the diamonds are being cut and polished here.