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November 23, 2001 - November 23, 2001

Modi gifts disposal will cost a lot Friday, November 23, 2001

BY RAJIV SHAH, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
GANDHINAGAR: The files which record the gifts that have been handed over to the treasury by government functionaries since 1967 turned gone yellow with time. In sharp contrast are the four new cupboards bought by the state finance department to keep the 167 gifts which have just come to the treasury from Chief Minister Narendra Modi.

Preparations are on for the auction as the chief minister insists the proceeds from the sale of his Diwali gifts should go for women's education and empowerment. The register recording the details of the gifts submitted to the state government is being photocopied. The records are also being computerised.

Even disposing of the goods received requires money. "If one takes into account the process of appointing persons to value each item in monetary terms, inserting advertisements for auction in newspapers, and then calling persons for auction, then the total expenses may turn out to be more than the actual value of the items so far received," an official said. The register contains little record of the actual value of the goods received.

A list of 36 items received since the only auction done so far _ on December 15, 1995 under the first Keshubhai Patel regime _ has been prepared. It has gone to the three-member committee of finance, industry and roads and buildings secretaries for official nod for auction. But none knows when the committee will meet again and valuators appointed. Officials claim, "It will be done soon. There is some political push now." The list contains nine items received since 1996, and the rest that failed to attract a buyer since 1967!

Records suggest ever since the second BJP ruler came to power in early 1998, the state treasury received only three items, one from Keshubhai Patel _ a gold crown he was presented by the Luhana Yuva Mandal during his visit to the Jalaram temple in Ahmedabad on April 16, 1998 _ and two from ex-state finance minister Vajubhai Vala.

Vala's gifts are a Krishna statue with a cow and a calf made in silver costing Rs 15,690 received from the Ranima Rudima Nakaland temple in Rajkot on August 24, 2001, and a silver trophy given to him jointly by the Mumbai Oil Seeds and Oil Exchange and the Ahmedabad Seeds Merchant.

Between 1996 and 1998, the state treasury received only five items. These are a dinner set with 21 items and a set of silver tray and two glasses given to IAS officer Swatantra Shekhon presented by Gujarat Gas and Gujarat Pipavav Ports respectively, a silver dish given to Gujarat Pollution Control Board chairman P V Bhatt, a Sony Walkman given to principal secretary to the CM Ashok Narayan, and a shawl.

During past six years, no other minister or chief minister, be it the BJP's liberal face Suresh Mehta who ruled the state in 1996, or the RJP's Shankarsinh Vaghela or Dilip Parikh in 1996-97, followed the rules on submitting gifts they may have received. The liberal benefit of doubt they can be given is that perhaps they never received any expensive gifts! Highly unlikely, one would say.

The maximum number of gifts submitted to the state treasury since September 2, 1967 the 40-odd out of a total of 168 received till Modi took over _ are by different Ahmedabad collectors. Most of these have been disposed off during the December 1995 auction. Those who have submitted the gifts to the treasury include two by ex-CM Madhavsinh Solanki, three by another ex-CM Babubhai Jashbhai Patel, past ministers Thakorebhai Patel, Ratubhai Adani, Ayesha Shaikh, Dineshbhai Shah, Vijaydasji Mahant, Rasikchandra Acharya.

The officials listed who have submitted their gift items include two by chief secretary Balakrishnan in 1994, one by P K Laheri in 1990. "The official list has many flaws," admits an official. "Till now we never had a proper system of recording the gifts submitted to us."

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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War, recession take heavy toll of engineering industry Friday, November 23, 2001

TIMES NEWS NETWORK
RAJKOT: Even as the United States B-52 bombers continue to rain bombs over Afghanistan, the repercussions are being felt in faraway Saurashtra, where the war has dealt a death blow to the small scale sector, especially the foundry industry.

Export orders worth Rs 15 crore have been cancelled ever since the September 11 terror attacks on the US, according to president of the Rajkot Engineering Association, Pravin Garala.

He said that even as the domestic markets were hit by recession, there was hope of revival from the international market. But the Afghan war had proved to be a major setback, especially for units manufacturing diesel engines, in the region.

Garala remarked that it was ironical that a large number of industries had failed to reopen after observing the traditional 'Labhpacham', which is supposed to bring in profits, as they were facing a severe cash crunch.

Most of the small scale industries in the city export finished products to countries like Abu Dhabi, Kuwait, Sharjah, Egypt and Nigeria.

Garala said goods worth Rs 40 crore were lying unclaimed in many Nigerian ports as those who had imported them were not in a position to make the payment.

"If these goods are not taken away by the parties concerned soon, the demurrage would have surpassed the cost of production. On the other hand it would be financially unviable to bring them back," Garala said, painting a gloomy economic picture.

The REA president said in the wake of the war, the small scale sector, which provides vital components to large manufacturing units engaged in export, had stopped accepting orders as they were not sure about the fate of the finished goods and the payment even while dealing with customers with whom they had transacted business for ages.

He said that the small scale sector in Rajkot exported goods worth Rs 200 to Rs 250 crore annually, but this year there was a slump and there was hardly any action on the export front.

In Rajkot alone there are around 7,000 to 8,000 small scale units manufacturing diesel engines and various components. They employ around three lakh people. There are chances that many of these workers would be laid off, Garala said.

The Rajkot units together have the capacity to manufacture around three lakh diesel engines a year but this year, due to recession, production targets have fallen by nearly 40 per cent.

Garala said there was a big drop in demand from Uttar Pradesh and Punjab, which are the biggest consumers of diesel engines.

As a result of the good rainfall in Rajasthan, the demand for water pumps for irrigating fields had dropped considerably. Even the local demand for water pumps and engines was negligible.

According to experts, the quality of engines manufactured in Rajkot are far superior to those produced in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Punjab and Agra city.

According to Garala, the erratic power supply in the city had contributed to the sector's woes.

Interestingly, the extent of the industry's woes as a result of the impact of recession came to light when factory owners cut down drastically on expenses like distribution of sweets and crackers.

According to Garala, it was not unusual for even small factory owners to spend amounts ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 15,000 on bursting crackers on Diwali day. But this time around, most of them confined it to a token affair, that, too, for 'shukan'.

Many dithered on paying bonus to workers _ it was either curtailed and, in some cases, not paid _ which had led to fears of industrial unrest and even violence.

As a seasoned observer remarked, "The reduced size of the sweet packets spoke volumes of the bad times of the Rajkot engineering industry!"

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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Narrow gauge buses idle for want of track Friday, November 23, 2001

SOURCE - TIMES NEWS NETWORK
VADODARA: Rail Buses, the term itself might sound alien even to the most regular railway user in the state. They might be even more surprised to know such buses are lying unused in the city itself.

Delay in repairing the narrow gauge tracks damaged by rains has rendered these buses non-functional. The tracks are being repaired and the Commissioner for Railway Safety (CRS) recently inspected a couple of them.

The buses are cost-effective method on the narrow gauge as they can cater to the meagre traffic on several routes. Besides, they need fewer people to operate it.

Manufactured in Kapurthala Coach Factory, its unique feature is that it has one coach, and one more coach has an engine with it. It is said to be fuel-efficient.

A top rail official said rail buses would suffice to take care of the traffic on the narrow gauge network. "If the traffic increased, we can ply an extra unit on the route", he said adding that rail buses were not needed at the moment.

The buses were acquired during the tenure of railway minister Ram Vilas Paswan. A sum of Rs 4 crore was allocated for the buses and track renovation. Five sections that have narrow gauge that need repairs are Kosamba-Umarpar, Ankleshwar-Rajpipla, Samlaya-Timbav, Samlaya-Dabhoi and Bodeli-Chhota Udepur.

The narrow gauge network in Vadodara was envisioned by the Gaekwadi rulers 60 years ago. It was one of its kind in the country and was used widely in the rural, especially tribal, areas.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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Shake-out in the ISP industry Friday, November 23, 2001

BY ROBIN DAVID & SUDHIR VYAS, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
RAJKOT/AHMEDABAD: The pessimists have been screaming from rooftops about the eminent shake-out in the ISP industry for the last two years. The fact of the matter is there are nearly 35 players still functional in Gujarat, the maximum in any state. Some are hanging on to that last straw of hope of a possible tariff revision, while others are taking their last gasps.

The first signs of the ISPs containing themselves to more manageable levels, however, have come from Wilnet Online, which has decided to shut its Rajkot service from December 6, as it is becoming increasingly unviable. With BSNL making calls from Rajkot to Ahmedabad local, the company has decided to manage all its Saurashtra connections from its headquarters.

Wipro has already left the Gujarat market after BSNL shut down its line accusing them of illegal activity. Sigma Online has shut shop nationally after making a lot of noise initially. There are also strong rumours that Satyam Online is in the process of closing its Rajkot office, but the company has denied it so far and confirmed that they will keep all their nodes functional.

"With the high cost of operations and just 400 connections in Rajkot, the service was not viable," says Wilnet's vice-president (Operations) D P Agarwal. "To top it, our franchisee was not aggressive enough in an extremely competitive market, because of which we were losing Rs 2 lakh every month. But we are not averse to restarting the service if we find another, more reliable franchisee."

One of Wilnet's main concerns was the Rs 14 lakh rent they were paying to BSNL every month for their 2 MBPS line. With connections having dropped from around 1,200 to 400, they were obviously not breaking even. "Until there is revenue-sharing with BSNL and better rates decided for dial-up connections, the service will have to work from Ahmedabad," Agarwal adds.

The Saurashtra region also has one of the lowest PC penetration figures in the state with one estimate putting it at as low as 10,000, most of them centred in Rajkot, Jamnagar and Vapi. Ironically enough, the amount of time spent on the Net in Saurashtra is highest in the state at two hours daily on an average. Ahmedabad comes in second with around one hour, followed by Surat with 20 minutes. Obviously, Rajkot's laid-back lifestyle with a lot of extra time on their hands does not go down well with an industry that has the speed of the digital age.

One of the main reasons for most ISPs not doing well is the extremely low rates for dial-up connections. Caught in a rate war to crush competition more than two years back, everyone is feeling the pinch now. "We will have to consider hiking up our dial-up rates in the coming months," says Chirag Mehta of Icenet, one of the few ISPs doing relatively well in the region with about 2,500 connections. "For us, a dial-up becomes feasible at Rs 1,500 only while we are selling it at Rs 900 currently. In the next six months, as some of the market conditions improve, we will slowly consider a rate revision."

BSNL's chief general manager P K Chanda however believes the rates may, in fact, fall even further as the intensive competition continues to eat into profits of almost players. "Such a fallout is only natural when you consider that we have 35 players in the market," he says and jokingly adds that he would gladly take over Wilnet's subscribers as they have no intention of shutting down their services.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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Shake-out in the ISP industry Friday, November 23, 2001

BY ROBIN DAVID & SUDHIR VYAS, TIMES NEWS NETWORK
RAJKOT/AHMEDABAD: The pessimists have been screaming from rooftops about the eminent shake-out in the ISP industry for the last two years. The fact of the matter is there are nearly 35 players still functional in Gujarat, the maximum in any state. Some are hanging on to that last straw of hope of a possible tariff revision, while others are taking their last gasps.

The first signs of the ISPs containing themselves to more manageable levels, however, have come from Wilnet Online, which has decided to shut its Rajkot service from December 6, as it is becoming increasingly unviable. With BSNL making calls from Rajkot to Ahmedabad local, the company has decided to manage all its Saurashtra connections from its headquarters.

Wipro has already left the Gujarat market after BSNL shut down its line accusing them of illegal activity. Sigma Online has shut shop nationally after making a lot of noise initially. There are also strong rumours that Satyam Online is in the process of closing its Rajkot office, but the company has denied it so far and confirmed that they will keep all their nodes functional.

"With the high cost of operations and just 400 connections in Rajkot, the service was not viable," says Wilnet's vice-president (Operations) D P Agarwal. "To top it, our franchisee was not aggressive enough in an extremely competitive market, because of which we were losing Rs 2 lakh every month. But we are not averse to restarting the service if we find another, more reliable franchisee."

One of Wilnet's main concerns was the Rs 14 lakh rent they were paying to BSNL every month for their 2 MBPS line. With connections having dropped from around 1,200 to 400, they were obviously not breaking even. "Until there is revenue-sharing with BSNL and better rates decided for dial-up connections, the service will have to work from Ahmedabad," Agarwal adds.

The Saurashtra region also has one of the lowest PC penetration figures in the state with one estimate putting it at as low as 10,000, most of them centred in Rajkot, Jamnagar and Vapi. Ironically enough, the amount of time spent on the Net in Saurashtra is highest in the state at two hours daily on an average. Ahmedabad comes in second with around one hour, followed by Surat with 20 minutes. Obviously, Rajkot's laid-back lifestyle with a lot of extra time on their hands does not go down well with an industry that has the speed of the digital age.

One of the main reasons for most ISPs not doing well is the extremely low rates for dial-up connections. Caught in a rate war to crush competition more than two years back, everyone is feeling the pinch now. "We will have to consider hiking up our dial-up rates in the coming months," says Chirag Mehta of Icenet, one of the few ISPs doing relatively well in the region with about 2,500 connections. "For us, a dial-up becomes feasible at Rs 1,500 only while we are selling it at Rs 900 currently. In the next six months, as some of the market conditions improve, we will slowly consider a rate revision."

BSNL's chief general manager P K Chanda however believes the rates may, in fact, fall even further as the intensive competition continues to eat into profits of almost players. "Such a fallout is only natural when you consider that we have 35 players in the market," he says and jokingly adds that he would gladly take over Wilnet's subscribers as they have no intention of shutting down their services.

News Source : The Times of India [India's best Newspaper]


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