JUNE 20, 2004
 Cover Story
 Personal Finance
 BT Special
 Back of the Book

Market Research Jitters
The big market research (MR) problem: people, when asked, often tell you what they think you want to hear rather than what they really think.

Maggi Five
Say 'Maggi', you get '2 minutes' in response. But the brand is talking '5' all of a sudden.

More Net Specials
Business Today,  June 6, 2004
Change of Guard
Who'll be the new power mandarins in South Block?

After a change of government, it's now time for the inevitable bureaucratic reshuffle. Already the Prime Minister's Office has seen a complete makeover, including the appointment of J.N. Dixit as the National Security Adviser in place of Brajesh Mishra, and T.K.A. Nair as the pm's Principal Secretary. However, Finance Minister P. Chidambaram is keeping his inherited team intact, given that he has a Budget to present in the first week of July and that Finance Secretary D.C. Gupta is due to retire in September this year. Others like D. Swarup, Expenditure Secretary, and N.S. Sisodia, Department of Banking and Insurance, will continue in their respective posts. Apparently, Commerce and Industry Minister Kamal Nath is also not too keen to replace Dipak Chatterjee, Secretary in his ministry, because he retires by June-end. Possible contenders for the post thereafter includes K.M. Chandrasekhar, India's ambassador to WTO.

A New Spin
Saving Media Lab Asia
Why Diesel is Sexy

A New Spin

In 1907, James Finlay founded the company to produce the world's best cotton. Surviving more than 50 years of independence, nationalisation and competition, Finlay's, now part of the National Textile Corporation (South Maharashtra) Ltd, has got a new lease on life.

ntcsm's Managing Director of two years, V.K. Tripathi, is investing almost Rs 40 crore to give the brand, reputed for its superior cotton fabric, a makeover, including a modern plant at Lalbagh, Mumbai. Some of the products planned: a line of cotton shirts that weigh a mere 95 gm apiece and F-74 mulls for turbans, popular for its light weight and superfine quality. A coup would be to get South Block's new occupant to sport it!

Inflation Watch: What Could Soon be Dearer?

LPG, Petrol and Kerosene
The elections are over and oil companies are waiting to exhale. Prices may go up save, perhaps, LPG

Fresh supplies have dropped because of a sugarcane shortage, but there's enough stock to hold prices

Housing and Construction
If the Chinese economy cools off, expect steel prices to drop too

Fruits and Vegetables
The met department is sanguine about good monsoon but a ritualistic seasonal hike in prices cannot be ruled out

Saving Media Lab Asia
Life after MIT looks uncertain, but not unexciting.

Looking for help: Media Lab Asia's G.V. Ramaraju

It doesn't have a CEO, it's got just a handful of researchers, and it is near broke. But Media Lab Asia (MLA), still trying to find its feet a year after its much-publicised divorce from MIT's Nick Negroponte-founded Media Lab, has a couple of things going for it: One, the government of India has agreed to pump in another Rs 262 crore in a bid to revive it. And two, it's got some cool projects in the works. Take a look: A hand-held polysensor that can identify common pollutants from a teaspoon of water in five minutes, whereas the fastest lab takes 25 hours. Its cost: Less than Rs 10,000 apiece. A data-transmitting device, the size of a cellphone, that gets activated by certain pre-programmed parameters, say, variations in temperature or touch. It then uses whatever network is available (cellular or WI-FI) to transmit the data to a base computer. A hundred of these devices planted along the course of a river like Ganges can provide real-time data about the level of pollution. The cost of such a project: Rs 20 crore. (This technology is not available elsewhere).

These are just two of several innovative projects underway at MLA. The others include an "Info Thela", which is a rugged wireless internet-enabled computer on a thela, or cart. The computer doesn't need electricity, but runs on a battery that is charged automatically as the driver pedals the cart. Besides email and fax, the cart can allow rural Indians to get agriculture-related information. It can also double up as a diagnostics-facility-on-wheels and generate an on-the-spot report. "A private body can fund the Media Lab as a whole or research in a specific technology domain, or individual projects," says G.V. Ramaraju, Research Director at MLA.

Yet, there are issues that face MLA, including sharing of intellectual property rights. For example, if an MLA partner institution and one or more corporate has invested in a project, not necessarily equally, who gets the patent? Besides, as R.S. Sirohi, Director at IIT Delhi, points out, "An academic lab can solve an industrial problem only if industry is involved at each step." But given the uncertainty over MLA's future, industry seems most reluctant to cash in on what was supposed to be a bleeding edge research lab.

Why Diesel is Sexy

As recently as 1999, some automotive experts were willing to write off diesel engines. Not only was the fuel considered environmentally unfriendly, but the regime of administered pricing was set to go, taking with it the huge price differential between diesel and petrol. Circa 2004, things are vastly different.

"Within the last four to five years, the market for diesel cars has grown from 2 to 3 per cent to 17 per cent of the total car market," says Jagdish Khattar, Managing Director, Maruti Udyog, who incidentally was part of the Bhure Lal Committee that, in 1999, recommended phasing out of diesel vehicles. Today, though, Khattar's Maruti Udyog is plonking down Rs 350 crore on a diesel engine plant, which will go on stream by 2006 and churn out a lakh of engines every year. This year, the share of diesel cars should go up to 20 per cent.




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