Anil Ambani recently made a presentation to a select group of investors, laying out ambitious plans for the group’s future. An interesting aspect of his presentation was the forceful declaration that he, obviously in contrast to his older sibling, does not draw a salary from any of his group companies and his compensation would be based on their profits and market price. He also said that none of the companies has any cross-holding or related party transactions. About the ADAG group’s prospects, he said, Reliance Communication’s (R-Com) 777 scheme had successfully sold a million handsets priced at Rs 1,234 in a week and is now pitching for a subscriber base of a whopping 100 million. Indeed, R-Com has also cleaned up the billing mess that it inherited during the demerger. Reliance Tower and Flag Telecom, which already have 11,000 telecom towers, plan to install another 20,000 in a single year. He also painted a bright future for the power sector, saying that India will be gas surplus in the next three to five years, at which time it has an opportunity to become the lowest cost producer of fertilizer and power in the world. If the long-term pricing of gas were in the region of 3.2 mmbtu, India could generate gas-based power at Rs 2/unit.
Business imperatives are finally forcing Yahoo!, Google and other networking sites to drop their rigid defence of free expression on the Internet. Networking sites, which are the most “happening” meeting ground for today’s youth, usually refuse to interfere with hate campaigns or sexually explicit postings and also have a long process of dealing with abuse. Only China has succeeded in arm-twisting them to toe its line. MySpace, a social networking site, has recently been forced to drop its rigid stance. Mark Huffman of ConsumerAffairs.com says that it agreed to remove “thousands of convicted sex offenders from its membership rolls” after a stiff letter from several US state attorney generals. It did this by cross-checking the list against a national database of 600,000 persons convicted of sex-related offences. MySpace, however, insisted that it would hand over information about individuals removed from the list, only if the police produced a warrant. Meanwhile, it is facing lawsuits by the parents of several young girls who were sexually assaulted by MySpace members. There were 100 such assaults in 2006. In India too, networking sites have realised the importance of cooperating with the police. For instance, Orkut has nominated an official to liaise with the Mumbai cyber-crime cell after violence had erupted over a couple of hate campaigns. Clearly, businesses find it easier to recognise the need to circumscribe individual freedom when it threatens to hurt the bottom line.
Helios & Matheson (H&M), which remains locked in litigation and arbitration with Rajeew Sawhney, over its alleged purchase of vMoksha, had gone ahead and made several other global acquisitions. One of these was the Nasdaq-listed TACT — a company once coveted by Dinesh Dalmia of DSQ Software. TACT was renamed Helios & Matheson North America (HMNA) and was distributor for Vegasoft of Helsinki. Now Vegasoft’s website has posted an announcement to the effect that its distributor agreement with Helios & Matheson has been terminated and from May 11 , 2007, customers will have to write to or approach Vegasoft directly for support, upgrades and product keys. New maintenance agreements will also be signed directly with Vegasoft when existing ones expire.
Cijo Paul, a mutual fund distributor at Ernakulam, had an urgent need to issue a cheque to someone and decided to deposit cash to ensure a balance. He has an HDFC Bank account since 2000 that promises anywhere banking. But a branch at Aluva refused to accept his cash, saying he was classified as a “Band-1” customer and was not allowed to deposit cash anywhere but at the branch where he has his account. We asked HDFC Bank about the concept of “Band-1” customers. It said, those customers who make frequent cash deposits or are extremely irregular in using their account are classified as Band-1 customers. This is part of the Bank’s “Know your customer” policy and their cash deposits have to be at the home branch to ensure proper identification. Paul, however, says that he is an active user of his account — at least 15-20 transactions every month — and rarely deposits cash. His income is entirely by cheque and comes from various mutual funds, including HDFC. His PAN number is also entered in the bank records. All he does is to transfer all surpluses in his savings account to fixed deposits in order to earn better interest. On the face of it, Paul is clearly not a Band-1 customer, but his experience tells us that it is yet another banking practice for customers to worry about. Worse, it is being applied without informing the customer, despite its potential to negate the very concept of anywhere banking.