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November 23, 2001 - November 23, 2001

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

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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Civil court slaps notice on MSU Friday, November 23, 2001

VADODARA: A city civil court issued a notice to the MS University (MSU) following a petition demanding a stay on the electoral process for the ensuing senate polls in the registered graduate category in the faculty of education and psychology.

The notice was issued after C M Patel, an aspirant for the seat, moved the court stating that his name was not included in the list of voters for the seat. This, he said, was done despite the fact that he had filled the necessary form and submitted it along with the fee.

Advocate for the petitioner, Narendra Tiwari, argued that the petitioner should have been informed regarding the rejection of his form. However, the university did not do this and the registrar expressed his helplessness when Patel approached him.

Patel has alleged that his name was deliberately not included in the list. This, he claims, was done to favour a candidate. Patel adds that if he was not registered as a voter, he would not be able to contest the polls. The elections are scheduled for December 12.

Further hearing of the case has been fixed on Wednesday.

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

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Handicrafts, the shopping pleasure Friday, November 23, 2001

AHMEDABAD: Shopping for handicrafts here is more than a pleasure. Ahmedabad, say the people who live here, is all about making money. Maybe that's true. But it's not the whole truth. It's also a great place to spend money. Here the locals laugh, as they make plans to rush to Mumbai to buy bags and shoes or even to a particular department store in Rajkot to buy cheese and then off to Surat for biscuits (did someone say ponk as well?).

But if you take a walk that starts at the Calico Museum at Shahibaug, then you're filled with an intense desire to a) live in the museum or b) live somewhere that looks like it. Knowing that you have to give the grounds, the wandering peacocks and the intensive gardening a go-by, you sail off to discover that part of Ahmedabad that will help fill the hole in your soul.


As the sun sets, as every local knows, Law Garden comes alive. But outside the hectic Navratri buying and the bhaji pao next door (when in Ahmedabad, reverse the Mumbai patois of pao bhaji), it's left to tourists and the hysteria of wandering puppet-sellers ("You want it? It costs Rs 300. But I'll give it to you for Rs 100... 50? 30?"). Without forgetting those quite ugly faces carved out of tree trunks with leaves sprouting out of them.

The bargaining at the stalls is a delight for those who live by their wits or just like to keep their skills sharp. Each salesman and woman (who usually come from somewhere in Saurashtra like Bhavnagar or Jamnagar) has a special Kutch sob story and an excellent sales pitch. Prices will rise and fall like the sensex on speed and it's a good game till you see that perfect wall hanging... Not quite like what you saw in the museum, but petromax light adds romance and it's time for the kill.

But there are times when the road doesn't quite cut it. Then a little social conscience and some intermittent air-conditioning works. At Banascraft on C G Road, the outlet of the Ahmedabad's most famous NGO SEWA, each price tag says 65 per cent of the proceeds go directly to the woman who made the item. Heartening indeed, especially since the wickedness of middlemen is well known to us all. The quality of the embroidery, the variety of the prints and even the price tags themselves make the experience more than satisfying. Plus, C G Road has more to offer, hidden behind the glitz.

If your wallet is a little larger, you could always try the top-of-the-line work from brand name NGOs, with carefully crafted and designed work straight out of Kutch. Or wander through the old city for the craftspeople who live there or come visiting and supply to the rest of the city. That's where the serious international buyers head for, straight out of the airport.

There is always, of course, something safe like Gurjari on Ashram Road, after its recent facelift. Printed cotton at incredibly cheap rates, shawls, rope and wood furniture, bells, terra cotta, mirrorwork, bandhni, patola saris... government emporia have their annoyances but if you look closely, the rewards are many.

Which is what makes handicrafts shopping in Ahmedabad such a pleasure. This doesn't even cover a tenth of it and the more you look, the more you find. The icing on the cake comes from fairs like the one recently organised by the CII at Sanskar Kendra, where the seller is also the maker and your heart gets fulfilled just by looking.

At the end of it all, you know you need just one more cloth parrot hanging on a string of shells with a bell on the end to get a little closer to the museum look. A Kutchi horseman, anyone?

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

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15 % fee hike in medical colleges from next year Friday, November 23, 2001

AHMEDABAD: The state government has hiked fees in government and self-financed medical colleges by 15 per cent through a resolution passed on November 13. Moreover, the GR is unique as it offers steps to curb malpractice like overcharging and collecting fees under heads not prescribed by the government.

With the hike, fee for a normal seat will be Rs 14,950 instead of Rs 13,000. And for payment seats it will be Rs 1.26 lakh instead of Rs 1.10 lakh. In dental colleges, the Rs 8,000 fee for normal seat has been left in tact, but for payment seat it has been raised from Rs 75,000 to Rs 86,250.

Not wanting to upset family budgets now, the government decided to enforce the hike from next year, that too, for those who seek admission.

Interestingly, the committee, headed by Sardar Patel University vice chancellor V S Patel, did not raise the $ 15,000 per annum fee for NRIs, already a sore issue with many self-financed colleges upset over the High Court's order of converting vacant NRI seats into payment seats. The $ 35,000 fee in dental colleges in the same category has not been revised.

Only the physiotherapy course fee was rationalised as it was an exceptionally high Rs 60,000 for payment seats, and as low as Rs 2,000 for free seats. Payment seats will cost Rs 25,000 and free seats will cost Rs 5,000.

Indeed, many rules are aimed at curbing malpractice, both in government and self-financed institutions. The GR has barred colleges from voluntarily lowering fees on NRI seats. Sachivalaya sources said there have been many complaints about colleges haggling with students and taking lesser amount. Aware that most middle-class households would not apply for 'high fee' seats, some colleges would agree to lesser fees once parents with a hefty bank balance approached them.

Under the new rules, they have to take government permission to cut fees. Also, they will have to advertise the seats with lower fees and only then admit students to ensure that all students get equal opportunity.

One of the most serious allegations from parents was that their wards, studying on payment seat, were intentionally failed for a year in some colleges, just to garner for the management extra revenue of Rs 1.10 lakh. To curb the menace, the new GR enjoins colleges to charge only 25 per cent of the fee, if a student fails.

Going a step further, the new rules say colleges can't take the $ 35,000 lumpsum as practised by many colleges. They can collect only term fees. "We have also found out that colleges were accepting money under a number of heads, like hospital fee, lab fee and campus development fee, which is against the norms," said an official. "Even accepting bank guarantees and drafts has been barred."

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

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Anti-smoking check aims ST buses Friday, November 23, 2001

RAJKOT: The city police commissioner Sudhir Sinha has decided to tighten the noose around those indulging in smoking at public places. From Wednesday onwards, checking would be done in ST buses and also luxury buses. So far 43 cases have been registered. Sinha has also called upon cinema house owners to take strict action against those smoking in cinema houses.

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