Sucheta Dalal :The Kopran conundrum (25 June 2001)
Sucheta Dalal

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The Kopran conundrum (25 June 2001)  

The Sebi found that Kopran was one of the companies which bailed out Ketan Parekh with Rs 78 crore in March. However, the company does not seem to have close business links with Parekh. Company sources have been saying that the top brass of Unit Trust of India (UTI) asked it to apply for debentures and to on-lend the entire amount to KP. This may well be true, but it is not clear why Kopran should oblige UTI so willingly. Maybe Kirit Somiaya and the Joint Parliamentary Committee can unravel the back-to-back transaction and find out if this was yet another bail-out for Parekh. We already know that UTI had done a similar deal with Himachal Futuristic when it subscribed to Rs 50 crore of debentures, knowing fully well that the money was to be lent to Parekh. It also bought huge quantities of Himachal Futuristic, Global Telesystems, Zee Telefilms and DSQ Software stocks and was in a tearing hurry to merge Global Trust Bank (another Ketan favourite) with UTI Bank.

Congress on the rampage

The Congress party is out to extract as much mileage as it can on the Scam of 2001, but it seems most focussed on the antics of select foreign institutional investors (FIIs) and the misuse of the Mauritius route. One gathered from a recent seminar that Congress leaders believe there is more to the Overseas Corporate Bodies that were buying large chunks of Ketan Parekh scrips, than meets the eye. In fact, they clearly suspect that two of these — Brentfeild Holdings and Wakefeild Holdings (both registered with the Credit Suisse First Boston) may embarrass powerful people in the present government.

Knee-jerk reaction

Breach Candy Hospital may have fixed the Prime Minister’s knees, but his visit cut off several thousand hapless subscribers of the MTNL. The PM’s surgery coincided with the monsoon deluge that batters Mumbai every year. And MTNL’s telephone cables maintained their annual ritual of going kaput by the thousands. This time it happened last Saturday, but by Wednesday morning the problem had still not been fixed. Exasperated subscribers were told that our hapless cables (in the Prabhadevi area) were on the PM’s route to the airport and the municipal corporation would not allow the roads to be dug up until he had departed. Fortunately for us, the PM left on Tuesday and by Wednesday, a few thousand lines slowly began to limp back to life. Does anyone need more evidence that India has already turned into a banana republic? Maybe the PM should use a helicopter next time. We, the affected people thanked our lucky stars that it was only the phone cable that had developed a snag and not the electricity lines. Otherwise we would have had to keep a candlelight vigil waiting and praying for the PM to leave Mumbai.
No alternative to MTNL

For those who like to say that India has made rapid strides in telecom reform, here is news. If you are a domestic subscriber of landline service, then forget about competition, the duopoly allows you no alternative to MTNL. Despite representations by telephone users associations to the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI), the private sector service provider Hughes Ispat Ltd has not been compelled to open an order book and to provide telephones on a first-come-first-served basis. With the result that Mumbaites who contact Hughes Telecom for a phone connection (yes, even individuals are tempted by the fact that new technology and equipment keeps its phones relatively fault free) receive two stock answers. Either, that the individual should assure Hughes a monthly billing of at least Rs 2,000 or if they are brushed off by saying there is no new line capacity available in the area. Yet, the company always has capacity available if it is a commercial consumer with large billings. The tenacity with which Hughes in Mumbai is going after MTNL’s creamy layer of customers is bad news for all subscribers. If the mammoth and over-staffed MTNL is left only with small subscribers, its will soon turn sick and lead to a degeneration of services. Consumers ought to petition TRAI to set things right by ordering an inspection of Hughes capacity and customer list.

No website anymore

Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services (IL&FS) apparently had a tough time getting its old website, (hosted on off the worldwide web. Having done that, it is now the only financial institution that is not on the Net. At a time when every government institution and the police have their its latest information freely posted on the web, IL&FS is only available in mysterious bits and pieces on websites of its investors, such as Orix or IFC Washington.

-- Sucheta Dalal