Intel Capital invests USD 23 million in Indian tech firms

Intel Capital, Intel Corporation’s global investment unit, on Thursday said it has invested USD 23 million in three Indian technology companies – July Systems, KLG Systel and MCX.

However, the firm did not reveal the amount the three companies have received individually.

Funding would come from the USD 250 million Intel Capital India Technology Fund, established in December 2005, Intel Capital said in a statement.

“This fund invests in Indian technology companies to stimulate local technology innovation and the continued growth of India’s information technology industry,” it said.

July Systems provides mobile internet solutions, which enables media brands to publish, distribute, monetise inventory and personalise services for consumers.

KLG Systel provides smart grid and energy management and efficiency solutions to power utilities and end-users.

MCX, a leading commodity futures electronic exchange in India, has permanent recognition from the Indian government for facilitating online trading, clearing and settlement operations for futures market across the country.

“Intel Capital’s investment in July Systems, KLG Systel and MCX reinforces our commitment towards fostering Indian innovation,” President of Intel Capital and Executive Vice- president of Intel Arvind Sodhani said.

Since 1998, Intel Capital has invested more than USD 200 million in Indian technology companies across 10 cities, the statement added.

Videocon forays into mobile services

Diversified business conglomerate Videocon Group on Thursday launched its mobile services division at an investment of Rs. 14,000 crore.

The group, which has presence in household appliances, Oil and Gas, Retail, Direct-to-Home services, entered the GSM telecom space by offering a scheme of ‘sub 1 paise effective tariff’

Videocon Group Chairman Venugopal Dhoot said the new division, Videocon Mobile Services, planned to cover 100 cities in 100 days.

Pepsico engages 12,000 farmers in contract farming

Riding on high sales of its snacks brands like Lays and Uncle Chipps, Pepsico has engaged 12,000 farmers across the country for contract farming of potato.

“There are 12,000 farmers doing contract farming of potato for us involving 16,000 acres of land,” Executive Vice-president of Pepsico Holdings (agro-business) Nischint Bhatia told PTI.

He said that out of the 12,000 farmers, 6,500 of them are in West Bengal working 2,600 acres.

Bhatia said Pepsico’s contract farming had picked up very fast, adding that the company had procured 22,000 tonnes of potato in the last harvesting season.

He said that with the growing sales of its snacks brands, the company would adopt for more in the country for contract farming.

At present, Pepsico is involved in the contract farming for potato only.

Bhatia said that farmers were ensured a captive off take even in periods of glut and also a remunerative price.

He said Pepsico was buying potatoes at Rs. 6 per kilo from the farmers, which was higher than what others were getting by selling the crop to the intermediaries.

Asked whether the company would enter into contract farming for other crops, Bhatia said that the company was planning to follow a similar line for oats.

He said oats were presently being imported for its Quaker Oats brand and the company was in talks with various agricultural universities for cultivating it in the country.

“It is still in the research stage and may take three to four year’s time,” Bhatia said.

He said oatmeal was becoming a popular breakfast cereal in India due to health reasons.

Coca-Cola liable to pay damages worth Rs. 216.26 cr

 

Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar submitting a report on damages caused by the Coca-Cola plant to Minister for Water Resources N.K. Premachandran in Thiruvananthapuram on Monday

The High Power Committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary K. Jayakumar on the extent of damages caused by the Coca-Cola plant at Plachimada in Palakkad district of Kerala has recommended to the government that a dedicated institution should be set up to adjudicate on individual claims for compensation.

In a report submitted to the Minister for Water Resources N.K. Premachandran here on Monday, the Committee indicated that the cola company had caused multi-sectoral damages amounting to Rs. 216.26 crore through operation of its plant and other actions, and was obliged to pay compensation to the affected people. (The local people had organised a long drawn out agitation against depletion of water sources and pollution by the company.)

It recommended that the State government could either set up a Tribunal under Article 323 B of the Constitution or request the Centre to form an Authority under the Environment (Protection) Act to determine the compensation and enforce payment. The Authority could be vested with all the powers necessary to deal with the situation created by the company as was done in Tamil Nadu to deal with issues arising from tanneries and other polluting industries. It also suggested that the company, located in a drought-prone area, should not resume its operation.

The Committee observed that the company had violated the Water (Prevention and Control of Pollution) Act, the Environment (Protection) Act, the Factories Act, Hazardous Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, the SC and ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act, Indian Penal Code, Land Utilisation Order, the Kerala Ground Water (Control and Regulation) Act and Indian Easement Act. “The fact that Coca-Cola factory at Plachimada has caused immense damage to the environment and people and their livelihood and health is supported by impeccable evidence.”

It estimated that the agriculture loss from the activities of the Company would come to Rs. 84.16 crore. Health damages came to Rs. 30 cores and wage loss and opportunity cost to Rs. 20 crore. The cost of providing water to the villagers came to Rs. 20 corres. It also estimated the damage from pollution of water resources to be Rs. 62.10 crore.

“The Committee has come to the conclusion that the company is responsible for these damages and it is obligatory that they pay the compensation to the affected people for the agricultural losses, health problems, loss of wages, loss of educational opportunities and the pollution caused to the water resources. The value of water extracted and depleted has not been calculated though it needs to be compensated.”

The 14-member committee consisted of officials and experts in law, environment, health and water resources.

Committee’s observations, recommendations

* The Coca Cola Company at Plachimada has been causing environmental degradation by over extraction of ground water and irresponsible disposal of the sludge.

* The Coca Cola Company is culpable under several laws in force.

* The water resources of the area have been affected and water scarcity has been compounded.

* By passing off the sludge as manure, the Company has not only misguided the farmers but has become responsible for the soil degradation, water contamination and consequential loss of agriculture.

* There has been a steady decline in the agriculture production in the area.

* The production of milk, meat and eggs also has suffered.

* Metals like cadmium, lead and chromium have been detected in the sludge and this has affected the health of the people.

* The general health of the people has been affected with skin ailments, breathing problems and other debilities.

* Low birth weight of children has also been noticed.

* Environment of the village has been acutely damaged by polluting water and soil.

* Drinking water has become scarce and women have to walk long distances. This has deprived them of their wages, and this needs to be compensated.

* Children have dropped out of schools on account of the social, health and economic factors caused by the pollution and this opportunity cost has to be compensated.

* The Grama Panchayat has been providing drinking water in tanker-lorries ever since the wells and water bodies have been rendered useless by the Company by its extraction of water and disposal and effluents

Infrastructure investment in 11th Plan to be close to $500 bn: Montek

The Planning Commission on Monday said investment in the infrastructure sector in the Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2007-12) will be close to the target of $500 billion, thanks to a better-than-expected show by the telecom sector.

“It does look as if we will achieve (investment in infrastructure sector) not fully, but very close to USD 500 billion…This will be primarily because of over achievement in telecom,” Planning Commission Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia said ahead of the government-sponsored meet on infrastructure, which will be chaired by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

The Commission had set a $500 billion target of investment in the infrastructure sector during the Eleventh Plan Period.

GDP

Replying to questions on growth prospects during the Eleventh Plan, Mr. Ahluwalia said it was likely to be 8.5 per cent in the next fiscal 2010-11 and nine per cent during 2011-12, the last year of the Eleventh Plan.

Following the global crisis, the growth rate during 2008-09 slipped to 6.7 per cent from over nine per cent during the three preceding years. It is estimated to be 7.2 per cent during the current fiscal.

The growth target for the plan period will be considered at a meeting of the full Planning Commission scheduled tomorrow evening chaired by the Prime Minister.

For the Eleventh Plan, the Commission had set a growth target of 9 per cent, which is not likely to be achieved mainly because of the impact of the global crisis on the country’s growth.

Infrastructure

Referring to the developments in the infrastructure sector, Mr. Ahluwalia said telecom sector has been doing exceedingly well and the performance would overshoot the target, both in urban and rural areas.

As far as the road sector is concerned, he said, the contracts for building 4,000 km would be awarded during the current fiscal, which would be twice the number of contracts given in the preceding two years.

Contracts for constructing 7,000 km roads are likely to be awarded during 2010-11, he said, adding the initial problems with regard to concession agreements have been sorted and the private investors have started showing interest in the sector.

One area which has not been doing as well as the other sectors is the port, Mr. Ahluwalia added.

The Plan panel chief further said the power sector, in terms of capacity addition, would do better than the Tenth Plan.

“We think we have a good chance to add 62,000 MW of capacity during the Eleventh Plan period, this could be more if very special efforts are made, but we are not taking credit for that,” Mr. Ahulwalia said.

“We think 62,000 is definitely lower than the target of 78,000 MW, but it is almost three time of what was actually created (21,000 MW) in the Tenth Five Year Plan (2002-07),” he said.

He pointed out, “It is the private sector capacity addition which exceeds target. The capacity expansion in private sector would be 120 per cent of the target whereas it would below the target in the public sector.”

The full Plan panel meeting tomorrow will also consider and approve the mid-term appraisal of the Eleventh Plan, the official sources said.

The approval of the mid-term appraisal is significant as after the full Plan panel’s nod, it would go to the National Development Council. The Council is expected to meet next month, sources said.

Honda to recall 410,000 vehicles for brake problem

Honda Motor Co. on Tuesday said it is recalling about 410,000 Odyssey minivans and Element small trucks because of problems with the brake pedals

Honda Motor Co. will recall more than 410,000 Odyssey minivans and Element small trucks because of braking system problems that could make it tougher to stop the vehicle if not repaired.

The recall includes 344,000 Odysseys and 68,000 Elements from the 2007 and 2008 model years.

Honda said in a statement that over time, brake pedals can feel “soft” and must be pressed closer to the floor to stop the vehicles. Left unrepaired, the problem could cause loss of braking power and possibly a crash, Honda spokesman Chris Martin said.

“It’s definitely not operating the way it should and it’s safety systems, so it brings to the recall status,” he said.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has reported three crashes due to the problem with minor injuries and no deaths, Martin said. Honda notified NHTSA of the recall on Monday, he said.

Honda has traced the problem to the device that powers the electronic stability control system, which selectively brake each of the wheels to keep the vehicles upright during an emergency situation.

When the device, called a “vehicle stability assist modulator,” tests itself when the vehicles are started, it allows a small amount of air into the hydraulic brake lines. Over time, an air bubble in the lines can cause a loss of braking power and require that the pedal be pushed farther toward the floor than normal to stop the vehicles, Martin said.

“Although not all vehicles being recalled are affected by this issue, we are recalling all possible units to assure all customers that their vehicles will perform correctly,” Honda said in a statement.

Under the recall, which Honda said it volunteered to do, Honda said that owners should wait to get a letter from the company before scheduling a repair because the parts are not yet available. Letters should go out toward the end of April.

Drivers who fear that they’ve lost braking power should have their dealer check the brakes sooner, Martin said. The dealer can “bleed” air bubbles out of the hydraulic lines, which should fix the problem until the parts arrive for the final repair, he said.

Honda technicians will put plastic caps and sealant over two small holes in the device to stop the air from getting in, Martin said.

The automaker is still preparing a list of affected vehicles. After April 19, owners can determine if their vehicles are being recalled by going to www.recalls.honda.com .

The safety recall is Honda’s second in the past two months. In February it recalled 952,118 vehicles globally due to air bag problems.

It comes on the heels of Toyota Motor Corp.’s spate of safety recalls that include more than 8 million vehicles worldwide for braking and sudden acceleration problems.

One of the Toyota recalls is a braking software problem that causes the pedal of the Prius gas-electric hybrid to momentarily drop toward the floor.

Ford Motor Co. had a similar software problem with its Ford Fusion and Mercury Milan hybrids. The company told owners of 17,600 cars to bring them in for a software update because a glitch can give drivers the impression that the brakes have failed when they haven’t.

The automaker called the repairs a “customer satisfaction program” and said it was not a full-fledged recall.

U.S. Fed to hold rates low as economy slowly improves

A television indicates that the Fed will keep interest rates unchanged on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York on Tuesday

Interest rates will be held in the range of 0-0.25 per cent for an extended period in anticipation of “low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations”, the United States Federal Reserve’s said

Interest rates will be held in the range of 0-0.25 per cent for an extended period in anticipation of “low rates of resource utilization, subdued inflation trends, and stable inflation expectations”, the United States Federal Reserve’s said today.

Following the Fed’s announcement, equity markets closed at an 18-month high and US Treasury yields declined, according to reports.

The Fed’s Federal Open Market Committee, which last met in January, hinted at improving conditions in the U.S. economy, pointing out that business spending on equipment and software rose “significantly” and household spending expanded moderately. However the latter remained constrained by high unemployment, modest income growth, lower housing wealth, and tight credit, the FOMC cautioned.

The FOMC added a note of explanation on its efforts to bolster the mortgage finance market through credit securities purchases. “To provide support to mortgage lending and housing markets and to improve overall conditions in private credit markets, the Federal Reserve has been purchasing $1.25 trillion of agency mortgage-backed securities and about $175 billion of agency debt,” it said.

Commenting on the overall macroeconomic picture the FOMC said that economic activity continued to strengthen and that “the labor market is stabilizing”. However, it added that employers remain reluctant to add to payrolls. With substantial resource slack continuing to restrain cost pressures and longer-term inflation expectations stable, inflation is likely to be subdued for some time.

Nine out of ten members of the FOMC voted for the FOMC to hold rates low. The one dissent vote came from Thomas M. Hoenig, who held that “continuing to express the expectation of exceptionally low levels of the federal funds rate for an extended period was no longer warranted because it could lead to the build-up of financial imbalances and increase risks to longer-run macroeconomic and financial stability.”