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India needs more profitable, robust banks: Anurag Thakur

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India needs more profitable and robust banks to fully meet the growing demand and privatisation of two state-run lenders is a move in that direction, Minister of State for Finance, Anurag Thakur, told IANS. In a post-Budget exclusive conversation with IANS, Thakur elaborated on the need for public sector banks to become more profitable, as the Centre cannot recapitalise them every year. Notably, banking sector reforms have been a major talking point of Budget 2021- 22, specifically the proposal to privatise two state-run lenders along with a general insurance company.

Till now, the Centre’s intent to privatise two lenders have received a healthy response from the investors and the stock markets. However, the banking unions have opposed the move. When asked about the opposition to the privatisation plan, Thakur said the Centre has strengthened the banks by reducing their NPAs and by taking them out of the prompt corrective action (PCA) norm. He mentioned that around Rs 5.5 lakh crore has been infused into the banks and an amalgamation and merger exercise has also been conducted. According to Thakur, the last divestment experience has shown that both the employees and the company benefit from the exercise. The employees, he said, will benefit from the move via higher pay scale in the future. Besides, he said that the Centre will take all required steps to conduct a healthy divestment process. On the speculation about inclusion of weak banks in the divestment plan, he said that buyers’ perspective should also be looked at before making an offer. IANS

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Deshmukh skips ED summons for fourth time

Urvashi Khona

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Former Maharashtra home minister Anil Deshmukh on Monday skipped the Enforcement Directorate summons in the money laundering case registered against him. The Enforcement Directorate had issued the fourth summons to former Deshmukh and his son Hrishikesh Deshmukh to appear before it on Monday with a money laundering case probe. However, the former minister failed to appear before the ED. Anil Deshmukh sent a two-page letter as a reply to the ED through his Advocate Inderpal Singh.

Terming the summons a “brute abuse of power and authority”, senior NCP leader in his letter claimed that the fourth summons to him despite his matter being pending before the Supreme Court indicated that the investigation was not fair and impartial.

“With regard to the subject summons, at the outset, I may express my grave dismay, shock and concern especially to the timing of the issuance thereof. As you are well aware as a contesting respondent that the entire investigations being carried out by your office has been challenged by me before the Hon’ble Supreme Court. In the writ petition, I have vehemently urged that the very commencement and continuation of the investigations by your office are not only actuated with malice both in law as well as fact, but also the same stand vitiated on account of grave violation of the procedure established by law,” is what he stated in letter.

This is the fourth summon to Deshmukh as he had skipped the previous three. His son and wife too were summoned and they too did not appear. The agency had last month raided his premises in Mumbai and Nagpur apart from that of his aides and some others.

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MAHARASHTRA ZIKA VIRUS CASE: CENTRE RUSHES HIGH-LEVEL TEAM TO STATE

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NEW DELHI: The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare on Monday decided to depute a high-level multidisciplinary team to Maharastra after the state reported its first Zika virus case in Pune.

The three-member team will collaborate with the State Health Department in instituting effective health measures for Zika virus management. According to a release by the Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, the Centre team will take a stock of the situation on the ground and implement the Union Health Ministry’s Action Plan for Zika Management.

The Central government will recommend necessary public health interventions for the management of Zika in the state. On August 2, Maharashtra has reported its first Zika virus infection at a village in Pune. ANI

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HC RESERVES ORDER ON RAJ KUNDRA’S PLEA CHALLENGING HIS ARREST

Urvashi Khona

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The Bombay High Court on Monday reserved its order on petitions filed by businessman Raj Kundra and his associate Ryan Thorpe challenging their arrest in a case related to alleged creation and streaming of pornographic content through apps. After submissions from the side of Raj Kundra and Ryan Thorpe on Monday Mumbai Police filed their side of submissions in the case where they told the court that they can’t be mute spectators if the accused does not co-operate and destroys the evidence, “If they (the accused) are trying to destroy evidence, is the investigating agency supposed to be a mere spectator? If the accused are not co-operating and are destroying evidence, then the investigating agency can’t be a mute spectator,” public prosecutor Aruna Kamat Pai said.

Reacting to recent developments via a Instagram post, Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty, wife of Raj Kundra, said: “Yes! The past few days have been challenging on every front. There have been a lot of rumours and accusations. A lot of unwarranted aspersions on me cast by the media and (not so) well wishers as well… All I will say is, as it’s an on-going investigation, I have full faith in the Mumbai Police and the Indian judiciary. As a family, we are taking recourse to all our available legal remedies. But, till then, I humbly request you—especially as a MOTHER—to respect our privacy for my children’s sake and request you to refrain from commenting on half-baked information without verifying the veracity of the same.”

The police told the court that Kundra had deleted his iCloud account, but they found “68 porn videos” and a script with adult content on his laptop, as well as 51 more in digital storage.

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PARLIAMENT WORKED FOR JUST 18 HOURS IN 2 WEEKS, RS 133 CRORE WASTED

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Around Rs 133 crore of taxpayers’ money has gone down the drain as Parliament has functioned for 18 hours out of the scheduled 107 hours, owing to repeated disruptions from Opposition mainly on the issue of Pegasus.

According to sources, so far 89 hours have been washed off in the ongoing session which commenced on 19 July and is slated to conclude on 13 August. As per the details shared by official sources, while the Rajya Sabha has functioned for nearly 21 percent of its scheduled time, the Lok Sabha has managed to function for less than 13 percent of the scheduled time.

“Lok Sabha has only been allowed to function for about seven hours out of possible 54 hours. Rajya Sabha has been allowed to function for 11 hours out of possible 53 hours. So far Parliament has functioned only 18 hours out of possible 107 hours (16.8 percent),” the sources said. The disruptions have led to a loss of more than Rs 133 crore to the exchequer, they added. 

Since the very beginning of ongoing monsoon session, opposition parties have been disrupting proceedings in both lower and upper house, demanding discussion on first price hike, then on farmers’ protest and now on Pegasus snooping row. Amid the chaos, the treasury benches have got five bills passed in Lok Sabha, besides crucial Appropriation bills. The Rajya Sabha has also passed almost a similar number of bills.

The Opposition and the government have blamed each other for the deadlock. The leader of Opposition in Rajya Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge has said that the onus to run Parliament lies on the government and it is shying away from this responsibility by not allowing discussion on people centric issues. 

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I knew that if I go wrong, Bollywood won’t give me a second chance: Darasing Khurana

Actor, philanthropist and model Darasing Khurana joins NewsX to share enthralling insights from his life.

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Actor Darasing Khurana, who comes from a non-acting background, reflected upon his journey so far and said, “I come from a small town called Parbhani in Maharashtra. There has been no exposure of films there. However, I participated in fashion shows and dramas from a young age. I knew that I wanted to be an actor and a model but never said it out loud as I thought people would make fun of me. I kept taking up opportunities, took many internships, and worked in various sectors to understand where my calling was. The ‘Mr Parbhani’ title in 2006 sowed the seeds for my acting career and I dreamt of becoming Mr India someday.”

When asked about his experience of participating in the pageant in 2017 and representing India thereafter internationally, he said, “My dream of becoming an actor and a model completely took a backseat while I was studying B. Com with advertising and then went to King’s College, London, to study Entrepreneurship and Pace’s University, New York to study Entrepreneurship. After getting back, I did my MBA from Narsee Monjee. While doing this, I kept working in nine different sectors to identify what I wanted to do. My eighth career option was to become a stylist.”

“I styled Hrithik Roshan for 2016 Mr India. Once he got back, I took back the clothes. He was going through a very rough patch at that time and talked very little. However, he did look at me and encouraged me to go for Mr India. A couple of months later, while I was crossing Juhu circle in Mumbai, I saw a huge board that said, ‘Calling young boys for Mr India audition.’ That took me back to what Hritik said and my childhood dream. That’s when I started working on my physique and communication skills. I eventually got shortlisted among the Top 25”, added Khurana. Speaking about his Punjabi film debut, he said, “I grew up watching Gurpreet Ghuggi and Upasana Singh and loved them. After I auditioned, I got to know that Smeep Kang is the director of the film. Usually, people start with Bollywood but I thought that there are a couple of things that need to be worked upon as I knew that if I go wrong then Bollywood won’t give me a second chance. I thought that my father, who was a big fan of Punjabi films and who never took me seriously, will be happy. Plus if I go wrong, I will get a second chance and that won’t be the end of my career. Moreover, working with Kang was a very different experience altogether because, unlike usual directors, he seems relaxed in the set and appreciates whatever you bring to the table, instead of treating them like mistakes.”

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ARE CLOUD KITCHENS THE FUTURE OF FOOD DELIVERY?

Vir Bhagat

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In 2003, two friends from Calcutta – Kallol Banerjee and Jaydeep Barman spent time reminiscing about their childhood days and the lip-smacking street food in Calcutta. That’s when the idea hit them to bring a chef from the streets of Calcutta and establish an outlet that provides delicious wraps and rolls and in Pune. Thus was the birth of the former Faasos, now REBEL Foods.

By 2011, REBEL Foods set up 18 outlets around India and soon, jumping on the online bandwagon, and began rivalling with bigwigs like McDonald’s and Dominos. With business booming, soon they introduced their second outlet, Behrouz Biryani.

Now, both rolls and biryani production was taking place under one roof but sold under different brand names. In no time, they could add a plethora of over eight brands, including OvenStory Pizza, to their repertoire. If you thought these brands were different restaurants that physically exist, it’s a mistake.

When food is delivered to your home, you tend to assume that it originates from a full-fledged restaurant. However, with the change in times, including the pandemic, that’s increasingly not the case. This brings us to the cloud kitchenconcept. Without the mumbo jumbo, simply put, the premise of a cloud kitchen, also known as dark, ghost or virtual kitchens, is simple. It’s a fully equipped kitchen space to cook one or many cuisines under the same roof with no dining or storefront. It’s a phone/online delivery-only service via aggregators such as Swiggy or Zomato or the kitchen’s delivery system. Some cloud kitchens may have physical outlets, but essentially they’re backed by a chain of cloud kitchens or a base kitchen. From $400 million in 2019, the cloud kitchen industry is projected to become a $2 billion industry by 2024 in India, according to RedSeer Management Consulting. 

So, what are the magic sauce cloud kitchens dip into and why are they gaining traction? Since the pandemic set in along with the various restrictions, takeaway meal options have been booming in India. But Covid-19 isn’t solely accountable for this seismic shift, it has merely played as a catalyst to accelerate this change. Long before Covid-induced lockdowns, the online delivery market was growing by the double fuelled by the craving for convenience and having the chance to eat every cuisine imaginable from popular restaurants across the city from the comfort of your home.

The food service is an industry that has high overheads and from a business point of view, cloud kitchens eliminate brick and mortar-related costs like rent for a prime location, cost of construction, a well-equipped ambience, training and upkeep of front-of-house staff, and maintenance expenses. Comparatively, cloud kitchens have low margins and need lesser working capital. With less focus on dining space, maintenance cost, designing, furniture, large staff, etc. kitchens can pivot the heart of their kitchen to a better quality of food.

To add to the above, cloud kitchens can take more orders in a day as compared to a dine-in restaurant, which spikes the volume and higher revenue per square foot. Similarly, cloud kitchens can run multiple brands from the same kitchen and serve a larger demographic at the same time. Plus, with limited interaction, the question of poor service is out the window and the food can speak for itself.      

During the Covid times, the relevance of such a set-up has increased manifold, as its excellent method to keep a business afloat while maintaining social-distancing guidelines. Simply put, with cloud kitchens, the number of risks is comparatively lower and they provide a cost-friendly model that helps prepare food with minimal investment tackling the supply gap.

CHALLENGES BEFORE A CLOUD KITCHEN

If you get your products right, you may be able to cook your way to millions. But this very fact poses a few challenges. While cloud kitchens save on labour and rent, the true expense is marketing. Typically, food aggregators charge 20 to 40% as commission. Over and above, cloud kitchens have to ensure a multitude of factors are in places like food quality and safety, competitive price, attractive packaging, top-notch hygiene, fresh delivery, etc. to meet customer expectations, acquire new customers, rank higher in third-party apps and earn good ratings. Building a successful cloud kitchen is not easy and needs continuous attention to detail along with up-to-date marketing and technology solutions.

WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS

Apart from big players like Rebel Foods which has grown to become one of the world’s largest internet restaurant companies, the cloud has space for small, local players and home cooks too. In the current environment and with the continued uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic, cloud kitchens backed by a cloud kitchen network have a better chance of survival and have carved a bigger path for this concept to thrive.

It will take some time for restaurants to return. Until then, cloud kitchens are an excellent way to provide customers with a safe and easily accessible method to enjoy a variety of foods.  Sure, the food and beverage industry is one of the largest in the service sector, and a few upcoming businesses will emerge as unicorns but, will they surpass dine-in restaurants? What the future holds only time will tell. In this time, to keep afloat, when you can’t change the direction of the wind – adjust your sails.    

The writer is from The British School, New Delhi.

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