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Leaving middle seat empty is cosmetic, need more effective measures: SpiceJet MD

Priya Sahgal



SpiceJet MD
Leaving middle seat empty is cosmetic, need more effective measures: SpiceJet MD

Chairman and Managing Director of Spicejet, Ajay Singh spoke to NewsX’s Senior Executive Editor about the measures that can be taken to make flying safe again.

Q. Before we talk of the aviation sector, a quick reaction on Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal’s announcement not to ease any restrictions on the lockdown just yet, even though Prime Minister Narendra Modi had said some easing of restrictions would happen.

A. I feel that the Government of India has done a fabulous job in the way they’ve run this whole process. Kudos to them. What they’ve done is being greatly appreciated around the world. I would really not like to second guess what they are doing. So, if the Government of India believes there should be some partial lifting of lockdown post 20 April, if they feel that is safe enough, I would really rather hone into that point of view.

Q. Speaking of great jobs, I want to compliment SpiceJet for its role as a Covid Warrior. You have operated more than 400 flights, carrying more than 4,000 tonnes of cargo, 100 of these were to international destinations. I recall an interview where you said you were carrying cargo on passenger seats.

A. I think this is our responsibility and this is a time when it’s worthwhile to be an airline, when you can actually help. I think we’re just fortunate that we had the opportunity. Wherever we are called upon to help, SpiceJet will always be there.

Q. The airlines are going to be one of the worst-hit by this lockdown. First of all, any clarity on the dates of opening up? There was speculation of May 3, now the Civil Aviation Minister has said no such dates.

A. First, aviation has been the hardest-hit industry. Not only in India, but globally. There’s no doubt about that. It’s a terrible time—the worst ever time for aviation globally. Having said that, in terms of where India is, of course we fully support the government’s decision for lockdown. Things could have been much worse if not for the lockdown. In terms of a date for opening, I don’t think anyone knows the answer to that question. Not the government itself. I think what they’re trying to do is figure out what happens to infection rates with the extension of the lockdown and then they will take a call. Also remember, they need to make a protocol for how exactly flights will be conducted. What precautions are needed to be taken by the passengers, by the airports, and by the airlines. How we can manage relatively contact-less travel, when it does happen. So that’s a process I think the government will probably go through, and discuss with all the stakeholders, before determining a date. So, whether this is May 4 or an extension… it seems to us that there could be an extension beyond May 4 because with the precautions they will take, there are certain changes that will need to be made by the airlines and airports. Do we have enough time? Perhaps this might be extended beyond May 4 by another few days.

Q. One of the suggestions is airlines should fly with one empty seat in the middle. How feasible is it economically?

A. First, it’s not safe. If you think about it, the distance between the aisle seat and the window seat is about 2 feet. The safe distance for preventing COVID infections is 6 feet. So, leaving one seat empty in the middle serves absolutely no purpose. If you look at the two persons who will be on the aisle seats, on both sides of the aisle, that’s a distance of just 1.5 feet. So that’s not really a solution. Face masks are probably a better solution. We will have to look at what is actually effective and not at what is an eyewash, or something that makes people feel happier psychologically. We need to do stuff that is actually efficient. The aviation sector certainly does not want to be the one spreading infections. We will do our very best to propose to the government measures that will help minimise the spread of the infection.

Q. You had a meeting with the Civil Aviation Minister recently. Any measures discussed to get you back in air again?

A. No great discussions so far. What is being looked at is the check-in process—how will that happen? Can there be a more automated process? Can we have a more efficient process for baggage handling? When people stand in rows, how far can they stand from each other? Is there a way to disinfect them? What is it that people need to wear on-board? Is it a facemask and gloves, or is it more than that? Then what we’re looking at is how does the crew behave, what does the crew wear? Do we or don’t we serve meals on-board? Those are the kind of issues that we need to look at. What we do has to be sensible—there’s no point in doing something that looks good on paper but is not actually effective.

Q. India was facing an economic slump even before Covid hit us. This is just going to make things worse. You’ve been talking about reforms in the airlines sector, do you want the government to come in and help?

A. First, I think that India always reforms in a crisis. This is an opportunity for us to look at all the structural problems we’ve had in Indian aviation. For example, trying to get aviation turbine fuel under GST. This is done across the world, and therefore because people get input credit nobody really pays taxes on aviation fuel. In India we are paying 35-40% tax on average, when you count excise and the state VAT. So, this is something that needs to be done— include ATF under GST. This is a relatively easy time to do it. There are ways to do it where the government won’t really lose revenue. The second thing is—look at the way the airports are structured. You give the airport to the highest bidder—the person who agrees to pay the largest revenue share to the Airports Authority of India. When that happens, airports try and maximise the money they get. They then go and say to service providers—people who are providing ground services, baggage handling services, check-in services—that they will give services contracts to those who give them the largest amount of money. The service provider, in turn, goes to the airline and tries to charge the maximum amount of money possible. Because of that, aviation in India becomes more expensive. And increasingly, we have to compete with the likes of Emirates, Etihad, Singapore Airlines— all these regional airlines which have a completely different cost structure. So, this is the time to get our cost structures right if India truly wants to be an aviation power, if India truly wants to set up its own international hubs, and not have to transport our passengers through hubs in the Middle East or in the Far East. I believe this is the best opportunity. In terms of shortterm assistance, countries around the world have looked upon aviation as a strategic sector. You see what the Americans have done: they have provided $50 billion dollars to their airline; $25 million in grants, and $25 million in soft loans. In Germany, Lufthansa has been given a $8 billion package. Singapore Airlines is being provided with a $13 billion package. So, this is a global trend. People are trying to assist the aviation sector, understanding the economic importance and strategic value of it. Of course, India does not have those kinds of resources, but we hope that they will assist us as well and recognise that as the economy picks up, aviation will be a critical claim.

Q. Do you see the prices of tickets going sky high?

A. Fares are a question of demand and supply. There is no question that demand is going to be impacted. It’s likely that no international flights will happen for a period of time. As far as domestic flights are concerned, I think demand could be dampened for a period of time for sure. We do believe that India is one of those markets which will pick up faster than markets globally. India has a great advantage of having a pretty big domestic market. Today, only 3% of Indians fly. Certainly, that number will increase over a period of time. The pace of that growth might slow down for a bit. But India is still going to be one of the most exciting aviation markets in the world.

Q. But do you see habits changing? This work from home culture will ensure that flying to Mumbai for that one meeting and coming back in the evening will stop.

A. Yes, some of that is going to happen for sure. As people understand that some of these meetings can be conducted like we are talking right now (video conferencing). Of course, some of this travel is going to get impacted. But ultimately, humans are social beings. They want to be with each other. If you want to go on a holiday, there’s no way you’re going to get to a beach and enjoy it on a Zoom call. People would rather see each other in meetings. We go to conferences, it isn’t just to attend a meeting. It’s also to meet the people there. It’s also to visit the place where the conference is. So, there is going to be some impact. But we believe that with just a small fraction of Indians flying today, ultimately the Indian aviation market is going to be pretty large. It’s also a great tool to connect two cities. It’s not so easy connecting them through transport such as trains. We think that markets that will be aviation powers in the future are those which have strong domestic markets. Markets like China, India, Indonesia. The time for the dominance of European and American powers in aviation has probably passed.

Q. I read that during the meet between Rajnath Singh and other ministers, the Civil Aviation Minister brought up the issue of parking fees. He said that a lot of costs are building up for you due to parking fees. Are you hoping for a waiver?

A. That certainly should be provided. Planes are just standing at airports and there is a pretty significant parking fee. We’ve seen around the world that what people are doing is taking their planes and parking them at no cost. Let’s say in the desert in Israel or other such places. So, we need to find a way to look after our fixed costs. Today the revenues are zero. There is still some revenue for SpiceJet due to the cargo operations we are undertaking. But broadly, revenues are zero. We have some fixed costs—the lease of our aircrafts, maintenance and parking of our aircrafts, salaries. The greatest pain for airlines today is the fact that their employees are suffering. People don’t have work to do. We are forced to resort to salary cuts and leaves without pay, which is extremely painful. We are very proud that passion is high despite all this and people are being cooperative in the aviation space. But we need to start flying as soon as the medical experts allow us to do so. Meanwhile, we request the Government to share some of the fixed costs of airlines.

Q. During this lockdown, how do you spend your time? Any new skills that you’ve learnt, apart from being adept at Zoom? You were anyway the tech geek.

A. I’ve learnt how to jump on a trampoline with my three-yearold daughter. I’ve learnt how to be a little more patient, with having nothing to do with periods of time. I never thought I’d have to sit at home for so long. I’ve never done it in my life.

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NIA cracks whip on ISIS network in Kashmir, Al Qaeda module busted in UP

6 detained in Kashmir; high alert sounded in Uttar Pradesh after a terror plot to target the state on Independence Day was unearthed.



In a pre-dawn operation, sleuths of National Investigation Agency (NIA) along with Jammu and Kashmir Police and Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) raided multiple locations in South Kashmir’s Anantnag district and a madrasa in downtown area of the Srinagar city. Six suspected persons have been detained by the agency for further questioning.

Sources said that an NIA team raided a Dar-ul-Uloom in Nawab Bazar area of the old city just before dawn and conducted thorough searches. Reports said that after preliminary investigation, one person who runs the madrasa was taken into custody for further questioning. His laptop and some documents too have been seized by the agency. Sources said that the said madrasa is affiliated with a Dar-ul-Uloom in Lucknow.

Simultaneous raids were conducted at many places in Anantnag district as well. The raids were conducted at several locations including Pushroo Achbal, Magray Pora Achabal, Sunsooma Achabal. While the NIA team conducted the searches, police and CRPF provided logistic support to avoid any disruption.

Searches in the case today led to recovery and seizure of a large number of incriminating documents and digital devices such as mobile phones, tablets, laptop, hard disks and T-shirts having ISIS logo.

In a statement, NIA said that Sunday’s raids in Kashmir were conducted for a case registered by NIA on 29 June 2021 under Sections 124A, 153A, &153B of IPC and Sections 17, 18, 18B, 38, 39 and 40 of the UA(P) Act 1967 in connection with the conspiracy of the ISIS to radicalise and recruit impressionable youth in India to wage jihad against the Indian state.

“In order to execute its nefarious plan, an organised campaign has been launched over cyberspace which is supplemented by on ground terror financing activities,” the statement said.

It added that “ISIS terrorists operating from various conflict zones along with ISIS cadres in India, by assuming pseudo-online identities, have created a network wherein ISIS-related propaganda material is disseminated for radicalising and recruiting members to the fold of ISIS.” It said that an India-centric online propaganda magazine the ‘Voice of Hind’ (VOH) is published on a monthly basis with the aim to incite and radicalise impressionable youth by projecting a skewed narrative of imagined injustices in India to arouse a feeling of alienation and communal hatred.

The day also saw an Al Qaeda module being busted in Uttar Pradesh, leading to an alert being issued in parts of Uttar Pradesh, including the Lucknow Commissionerate area. The terror unit had planned attacks, including suicide bombings, in crowded areas of Lucknow and other cities in the state, the police said on Sunday.

Two men from Lucknow—Minhaj Ahmed and Maseeruddin—have been arrested, leading to the discovery of the terrorist cell, the police said. “ATS (Anti-Terrorism Squad) UP has uncovered a big terror module. The team has arrested two terrorists linked with Al Qaeda’s Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind. Arms, explosive materials have been recovered in searches,” senior police officer Prashant Kumar said at a news conference.

“They along with their associates were planning to conduct a blast in Lucknow and surrounding areas before 15 August. Pistols, IED and huge explosives were recovered from their possession. The search operation is underway to nab their other associates” stated Kumar. “The terror activities were being run from Peshawar and Quetta on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border,” he added.

According to the Uttar Pradesh police, the terrorist module planned attacks on monuments and other public areas.


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BRICS CCI Startup series: A push to young entrepreneurs and creation of an Atmanirbhar Bharat



BRICS Chamber of Commerce & Industry in association with Start-Up India, a government of India initiative and Rising Bharat, a platform to encourage the Start up eco system in India through mentor ship and funding, organised the first BRICS CCI Startup series event. The event commenced on February 5, 2021, at the Hyatt Regency,New Delhi.

With an aim to support and encourage young entrepreneurs, the event gave an opportunity to 15 startups, to present their pitches to an esteemed jury. The brain child of the BRICS CCI Vice Chairman Mr. Sameep Shastri, the final start ups were selected from a pool of more than 250 start ups, who sent their pitches to the Chamber.

The panel of jury included Sameep Shastri (Vice Chairman, BRICS CCI), Avi Mittal, (CEO & MD, Golden Ace Ventures), Akshay Aggarwal, (Founder, Kafila Forge), Bibin Babu (Board Member, Innowork, BlocSpaze, Payiza,) Dhruv Khanna, (Co-Founder, Triton Foodworks), Pratham Mittal (Founder, Neta App), Dr. Vinay Agrawal (Chancellor, ISBM University), Ruhail Ranjan (MD, Chandrika Power) and Aditi Banerjee (Co-Founder & CEO, Magic Billion).

Dr Neha Prakash (IAS), Special Secretary, IT & Electronics, Govt. Of UP, Mr Sameep Shastri, BRICS CCI Vice Chairman, Dr BBL Madhukar, BRICS CCI DG, Mr Ashok Kumar Singh and Mr. Jitin Bhasin, CEO Savein, and Mr. Rana Sarkar joined as distinguished guests and esteemed speakers.

As part of the startup series, BRICS undertook a three-month process to identify budding startups, which had novel ideas and drive to lead a change, but required the investment, exposure and an added push for them to continue in their endeavour, lead innovations and pave the path towards Atmanirbhar Bharat.

Speaking about the vision of the program and how it gradually evolved, Sameep Shastri, Vice Chairman, BRICS CCI, told NewsX, “The initial thought-process since 2016, as our honourable prime minister has pushing towards startup, Atmanirbhar Bharat, is an ideology that we have been following. Being a young country, we have the mind; we have the jugaad, the innovating mind. It was just the right platform that was missing. What we are trying to do here is get the successfully settled young entrepreneurs who are in the top list of Forbes, they are all part of the chamber now and they are not just ready to put in the funds but mentor the upcoming innovations and startups. This is what the idea behind this is. We have tied up with one of my other initiatives, which is Rising Bharat, where we took it to tier 2 and tier 3 cities and funded more than 700 startups. I have continuously been associated with the startup community and what we have realised is mentoring is very important. Financial funding is something that everyone is able to acquire but right kind of mentorship with the right kind of team is missing. This was the gap that we identified and this is how the entire program evolved. In future, we would like to have at least four more rounds in 2021. As in, India is chairing BRICS this year so we are planning to make the best of it and give it the right platform, a global platform.”

Ms Neha Prakash, (IAS), Special Secretary, IT & Electronics, Govt. Of UP, who joined the panel as a distinguished guest, expressed, “First of all, I would like to congratulate BRICS CCI for providing us this platform to connect with the potential startups and entrepreneurs and to connect them with the potential investors. This is a very noble vision. India is very conducive to the growth of startups because of our demographic, open economic culture and the psyche of jugaad, i.e the impromptu innovation, which is deeply embedded in the Indian psyche. Because India provides this potential for the growth of startups, it is with this vision that BRICS CCI has organised this event to bring us all together and to further promote and nurture the budding entrepreneurs.”

When asked about his experience as one of the jury members, Ruhail Ranjan, MD, Chandrika Power, said, “With the vision of our honourable PM Shri Modi ji, the startups are really moving out. In 2014, the environment was not so conducive. Now, he has given us a few rules, which are very easy on startups. I am really looking forward to the next few years, which is going to a very good growth story for India. With these startups, we are really looking to handhold them and mentor them. They have good ideas but they need mentoring. When we started, we had no mentoring, nobody to go to, no knowledge about where to get money from, market was struggle. We really want them to focus on growth rather than struggle. We really want to incubate them and take them forward.”

Dr Vinay Aggarwal, Chancellor, ISBM University, further, shared, “Entrepreneurs like these are young minds. I always say that they are like damp clay. The way we shape it, the way we mentor them will help them to nurture themselves and their businesses. These people coming out of nowhere, having creative minds and beautiful ideas, can be nurtured and mentored in a way that it can grow up to a multi-billion dollar organisation. For that, we heard many pitches today and made many investment commitments. It was wonderful. The overall experience was superb. This is just the start and we will have many more events like these where young entrepreneurs can come and pitch their ideas.”

Mr. Jitin Bhasin, CEO Savein, emphasised on the need of proper mentorship to the budding entrepreneurs as equally important as fund raising. He also congratulated the Chamber for its initiative.

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SpeakIn Expert Talk: N. R Narayana Murthy shares insight on ‘Corporate governance in Indian banks’



SpeakIn and Indian Banks Association in partnership with Capgemini on Friday presented a captivating session with Infosys founder N.R Narayana Murthy on ‘Corporate Governance in Indian Banks’. The 30-minute session, which witnessed the attendance of top banking leadership, was presented as a part of SpeakIn’s new series titled ‘SpeakIn Expert Talk’.

Chief Executive of Indian Banks Association Mr Sunil Mehta, all praises for N.R Narayana Murthy in his opening remarks, expressed, “N R Narayana Murthy’s prominence is much echoed and vibrated in not just Indian industry but equally by the International business community. He is a man of distinct vision, fountain of illuminating ideas and an idol of knowledge, value system and inspiration to all of us.”

Introducing the idea of corporate governance, especially in Indian banks, Rajkiran Rai G., Chairman of Indian Banks Association and MD & CEO of Union Bank of India said, “When you talk of corporate governance, primarily, we are referring to the code and conduct of decision makers of a company. It is about set up systems, processes and principles, which ensure that a company is governed in the best interest of all stakeholders. It is about promoting fairness, transparency and accountability. It is about commitment to values, ethical business conduct and about making a distinction between personal and corporate funds in the management of a company. While these aspects are known to every management and firm, very few have been practicing it in letter and spirit.

Speaking about Covid-19 challenge, Mr Rajkiran added, “Last year, in particular, a challenge was posed to all good narrative of corporate world in India with several high and mighty firms and their distinguished management violating the trust of people. Unfortunately, those entrusted to keep a vigilant eye have not covered themselves in glory either. We needed to build a systemic response in terms of legal architecture and regulatory capacities. A lot has been achieved in these years, more importantly, however, we need to discover the inherent virtues of business that values ethics, honesty and integrity over any profit and loss.”

Vishal Dixit, Managing Director of Capgemini Financial Services, also shared his views and said, “Last 20 years of corporate governance in banking has changed drastically. Some names that come to mind are Lemon brothers, Enron and if you look closer to home, then Satyam. This trigged action and various committees were set up to institutionalise corporate governance and transparency framework in various parts of the world. Strong policies on corporate governance of banks are essential and critical because size and complexity of financial institutions are growing by the day and these are not checked it can have serious financial instability implications. Even after so many measures, we still have instances in the banking and financial sector, which we have recently foreseen. Clearly, people are finding loopholes in the policies. Therefore, there is a need to have continuous discussions and reviews to identify areas of improvement and immediate amendments to the policy. RBI has recently released the discussion paper in June 2020 on corporate governance banking, the need to empower board of directors and set the culture of value transparency in the organisation.”

In a conversation with SpeakIn Founder Deepshikha Kumar, Mr Murthy spoke about how organisations can improve corporate governance and the steps they need to follow to raise the bar of corporate governance. He said, “The most important initiative that we all have to take is to change the culture of the country. Unless there is a cultural transformation in India, I don’t think economic transformation will be easy to implement. I believe that the culture of a nation determines how its public institutions develop, sustain and operate. It takes long years to make the institutions strong. Even the countries where institutions are strong, one misguided individual, as we saw recently, supported by the silence of the powerful and the elite can weaken these institutions. It will take a long time to rebuild it. Countries like India, who were under the control of foreign invaders for almost 1000 years, we lost the sense of commitment to the society. This was because Indians thought that the society, or what was public, belonged to somebody who was either in Europe, or Uzbekistan or Afghanistan. Therefore, Indians focused on making their families strong and blundering commons that Indians considered as belonging to these invaders. This mindset developed over 1000 years and will take a long time to change. Therefore, wealth belonging to a corporate or deposits in a bank have been considered as a perfect gain for plundering by the rich and powerful.”

He added, “The problem of poor corporate governance steps from this mindset. The deficits in corporate governance in India stem from the primary problem of increasing agency cost and related transactions that benefit the owner managers and the professional management. This problem translates to using public resources illegally to make oneself richer. This problem will be reduced when there is a cultural transformation in India. When using public money for personal benefits will be punished heavily and when the society ostracises such offenders very severely.

Ms Deepshika further asked how do we get alignment of all stakeholders in building awareness, implementation and measuring the effectiveness of corporate governance. Moreover, what rules should we deploy to measure corporate governance. To which, Mr Murthy responded, “First of all, the best way to eliminate such deficits or reduce the number of such deficits is for a board member to ask if such an action would enhance respect for him or her in the eyes of the society. We have to accept that respect is more important than wealth and power. Second, the board members must be made to realise that they serve to enhance the interest of every shareholder and stakeholder. Today, there is a feeling among board members in India that they operate at the pleasure of either the CEO or Chairman. Ofcourse, there is also a feeling among the bureaucrats that serve the boats of public sector banks that they are not accountable to individual stakeholders, even though they may be in minority, and that they are accountable only to their bosses sitting in Delhi or the state capital. Increasing accountability to every shareholder is important. Third, Directors should not appointed by the government for listed public sector banks but they should be appointed only by shareholders through voting. These directors must be held accountable to every shareholder. Full transparency must be provided to the report of investigation of any governance problem taken by any outside agency. Fourth, the board should recuse itself and appoint a set of respected and accomplished members of the society when any member of the board or any of the CFOs is accused. Fifth, SEBI may want to mandate the trading of every incoming board member on the basics of business and governance, give them a test and then certify if they can indeed be admitted to the board. The candidates for chairmanship must undergo additional training and certification. Sixth, Boards have to conduct annual peer survey among the board members on their performance of each member of the board. The chairman generally sits with each member of the board, discusses his or her performance, suggest remedies for weaknesses and crops him or her if the performance is not improved after two examinations. The Chairman’s performance is handled by the late Independent director along with two respected and accomplished members of the society who are experts in that particular business field. Seventh, any deficits created by board members must be punished heavily by drawing back the fee received by the board member and an additional fine. In some cases, the board members may have to face criminal charges. I believe that if we implement these suggestions, there will be a deterrent for members of the board and CFOs to indulge in creating corporate governance deficits.”

Watch the entire broadcast here:

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Aviation sector enters rough patch

Local air travel in India is likely to crash from 14 crore domestic passengers in 2019-20 to around 8-9 crore in the next financial year, says a recent report. A coordinated government and industry action is needed if the catastrophe is to be avoided.



Aviation sector

With over 70% of the world’s fleet of 24,000 active commercial aircraft in mothballs, it is going to be a heartbreakingly costly effort to get them back in the air. Worse, each passing day only piles on more pressure and makes grounded aircraft less airworthy.

On this bleak canvas painting any scenario is predicated to the passenger mind-set and the thorough brainwashing these past few weeks that has been globally given to the potential flier that getting on a plane is not safe for Covid-19. While at-
tractive ticket costs and piled on privileges might ginger up some enthusiasm, it is not going to be easy.

In the interim as the industry trims its overheads, aircraft and carriers alike are inclined to lie down. It is a fact that half the world’s airlines in most regions only
have two to three months of cash to cover their operations. According to IATA bankruptcy has a hideous grin of anticipation writ large on its face. Granted, there is a wide variation in the fiscal strength of carriers.

The best airlines generate more profits and have stronger balance sheets than they did in the crisis of 2008, but by the same token the rest are the financial walking wounded and pull the industry back. We speak of a coordinated government and industry action that is needed — and needed now — if the catastrophe is to be avoided or at least softened in its impact. Surviving is not enough. Compromising service and safety and cutting corners are all potential recipes for disaster.

Just saying that the ATM (Air Transport Management) community needs to work together to strategies how the airline industry will restart again is also not enough. While it cannot take government fiscal injections for granted, seeking soft loans will be on the cards. Private equity will also have to be considered. It is a cruel fact but downsizing fleet and staff and even airports and assets will be necessary. There is also an official attitude issue.

Each time there is a new government recommendation it is to discourage flying. Demand is drying up in ways that are completely unprecedented. Normality is not yet on the horizon. And even when the ban is lifted there could be new protocols that could make ticketing prohibitively expensive — paramount among them the safe distancing dictate that could make the load factor a parody.

The magnitude of the unfolding trauma for India’s airlines is far too severe to ignore. The “Covid-19 & the State of the Indian Aviation Industry” report, released by Capa India recently, reveals that local air travel in the country will likely crash from 14 crore domestic passengers in 2019-20 to around 8-9 crore in the next financial year (2020-21). A not so generous calculation would see the need for $2.6 billion just to jumpstart the industry in India. At least 200 of the 670-odd aircraft in the Indian commercial skies will be technically axed as schedules are truncated.

The Capa India report had some more dire predictions to make and it is necessary to confront them rather than wish them away. The most significant ones among them include:
(A) The Indian aviation sector is likely to shrink significantly, even if some of the vulnerable airlines manage to survive. The trick lies in knowing if Indian aviation has any sugar daddies who will invest in the sector knowing profit is a long time coming. An absence of liquidity is a major issue.

Ironically, IATA chief economist Brian Pierce made a projection that now sounds like a travesty: Moreover, as the world’s largest democracy with a population of more than 1.3 billion citizens, India’s potential for further growth and industry development is very clear. Indeed, we expect air passenger numbers to, from and within India, increase by 3.3-times over the next 20 years, to more than 500 million passenger journeys per year.

This significant expansion is expected to be underpinned by a trebling in the proportion of middle-class households and further increases in time-saving options for air passengers. This highlights the important role aviation can play in connecting the country — both internally and with the rest of the world.

This strong growth outlook for air passenger demand will see India overtake Germany, Japan, Spain, and the UK within the next 10 years to become the world’s third-largest air passenger market. These are exciting times for the air transport industry in India. With international traffic expected to fall from approximately 70 million in FY 2020 to 35-40 million in FY 2021, and possibly lower depending on several factors, India will lose at least 30% of its 160 million passengers, if not more.

Capa India has cautiously added that these were only initial estimates and that these would be revised as the situation becomes clearer. Consumer sentiment jolted by the virus outbreak, government curbs on air travel, and uncertainty over when they would be relaxed will severely hit airlines and allied industries. Domestic air passenger traffic is expected to drop from an estimated 140 million in FY20 to around 80-90 million in FY21.

International traffic is expected to almost halve from around 70 million in FY20 to 35-40 million in FY21, Capa India said in the report. “Indian carriers will require a domestic fleet of around 300- 325 aircraft from October 2020 onwards, and an international fleet of 100-125 aircraft,” the report said. So much for the double-digit growth.

Bigger players like Vistara, SpiceJet, Air India, GoAir, and IndiGo are staring at deteriorating balance sheets. As per the recent report by the International Air Transport Association (IATA), the Covid-19 crisis is expected to impact over
29 lakh (2,932,900 to be precise) jobs in India’s aviation sector.

That is a very large chunk of talent, expertise, and experience and will call for multi-tasking, something no airline likes to engage in. The negative impact if the ban is lifted in June on airlines’ revenue would be $11.221 billion and that is not small change. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has released its latest forecast.

It predicts that half of all airline business will disappear this year, with full-year passenger revenues falling 55 per cent compared with 2019, with traffic falling 48 per cent. CEO Alexandre de Juniac summed it up as “catastrophic”.
Emphasising the effect on the wider economy, de Juniac said: “If airlines lose one job, another 24 disappear somewhere in the value chain. That was behind our analysis last week when we said that some 25 million jobs are at risk”.

India won’t allow commercial flights to operate until it is confident that the coronavirus outbreak is under control, Union Aviation Minister Hardeep Puri said recently. The country’s cash-strapped airlines can only stand and wait
to serve.

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Salon business takes a massive hit in corona times

The industry, which depends on personal touch and human interaction, is fighting for survival.




From Anushka Sharma giving a haircut to hubby Virat Kohli to Tapsee Pannu chopping off her own hair, we’ve seen several celebs indulging in DIY personal care as the entire grooming industry has been under lockdown for the past few weeks amid the rising number of coronavirus cases. And now even though the government has permitted the opening of standalone beauty parlours and salons, the industry is far from the road to recovery. The predicament of the industry lies in the deeprooted doubts prevailing in the customer’s mind regarding their own safety. “I know the next six months won’t be good for the industry. The client is scared and is apprehensive to come to the parlour or salon. We need to work on that first, we need to work on client confidence which can only happen through education. It will take a lot of time.

We all have to work on it creating trust,” says Jawed Habib, India’s salon czar and chairperson of Jawed Habib Hair & Beauty Limited. From basic grooming like a haircut and facial to botox, nail and hair extensions, the entire gamut of the grooming industry has changed drastically. The industry, which is pegged at crores of rupees, has been terribly hit due to Covid-19. The industry, which depends on personal touch and human interaction, is bracing for the aftermath of the lockdown. “I think the big challenge is what to do right now, and what we need to do when the lockdown is lifted. What our sanitisation needs will be? What will be nontouch makeovers? We need to think how we can bring digital and AI into all of this. The morale of the people is down which makes it very stressful,” says Sameer Modi, founder and MD of the popular cosmetic brand Colour Bar. With everything connected to our social media handles via technology, it’s not just the owners of these salons and companies who are feeling the lockdown blues but also make-up and beauty influencers, as the advertisements have reduced drastically on their platforms.

“Current situation is bad; the brand budgets have gone down. The budgets have been slashed as there are no delivery happening. Brands mainly want to collaborate for brand awareness to the audience. There won’t be an ROI as no purchase will be made. Some brands are doing online marketing so that the product is out there in the buyers’ mind,” says Shilini Samuel, a digital creator. Many digital influencers are, however, trying to stay positive during the pandemic by creating educational content online. “I have started doing online makeup classes and teaching makeup every day. That way I can help people with my skills and motivate them as much as I can. I keep interacting with my brands and team members to come up with solutions. Right now, we don’t know the situation we are in and we don’t know what’s going to happen, but we can try to do what’s best,” says Saachi Bhasin Daga, an online beauty influencer. With the government giving a green signal to standalone salons and parlours, the industry is slowly attempting to revive itself. The first and the foremost priority for the industry seems to be winning the trust of the customer back.

“We will have to work with less manpower and make sure they wear sanitised gear and are safe. We were also planning to hire people who come from non-contaminated zones. We have to work on our social media skills and make sure people coming to us know it’s a safe place,” says Dr Jamuna Pai, celebrity skincare and wellness expert and founder of Skinlabs Clinic. Dr. Blossom Kochar, chairperson, Blossom Kochar Group of Companies, also believes that the most important thing is to build the trust. “People do need these things and they will finally come out. But for that sanitisation and hygiene are going to be very important.” Though the hardesthit in the industry have been the small salons and barbers who had to keep the shutters down from weeks and are now seeing a drastic reduction is footfalls. “The beauty and the hair industry needs to come together. It is a huge industry in India and we can raise a lot of fund, which can go to people that cannot afford to even open their small salons,” suggests Sapna Bhavnani, a celebrity hairstylist.

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Online gambling grows by leaps and bounds in locked-down India

Preeti Sompura



Online gambling

With all of India in lockdown, online gambling has become a favourite pastime for many people. Online games are not new and many are addicted to this craze but online gambling is catching up and how! An expert estimates this new industry to be worth $150 million and growing by the minute. While online games attract 75% of mainly male youth, now the youths are turning to online gambling, like poker and rummy. The most popular gambling avenues are lottery, racing, betting, casino, rummy, and poker. It’s an addiction for those who are hooked to their screen for hours. Teen Patti, a game very popular in India, especially during Diwali, has occupied the top 10 ranks in the virtual world too. With huge demand and popularity, many gaming sites are organising annual game tournaments. Legally, only a person of age 18 or above is allowed to play or participate in online gambling with no checks and balances. As a result, many minors have fallen into this trap. With no monitoring by government agencies, these minors use fake IDs to create online accounts.   

Activist S. Balakrishna said he would file a PIL in the Bombay High Court praying for a ban on all online gambling sites. He said there are several websites for poker and sports betting like Ladbrokes on which you can bet on cricket, football and other sport with impunity. Many Indian bookies are betting on these sites on behalf of thousands of benami clients and making huge profits. As for poker, rummy and other card games, many are Chinese run and huge bets are placed in the games with almost no law enforcement in this area. India has no dedicated laws or a framework to deal with legal issues of online games and gambling. Gambling comes under the states’ list with different states having different laws for it. Few states like Sikkim and Goa have allowed games of skill while other states prohibit them in all forms. This issue becomes further complicated since the Supreme Court recognised rummy as a game of skill. Though online gambling companies in India are now required to comply with multiple Central and state regulations, the companies get away with it due to loopholes.

Data suggests that 11% of global Internet traffic is of online gambling and one in 20 accounts is connected to fraudsters. According to the 276th report of the Law Commission of India, the present market for online gaming is worth $360 million which is expected to rise up to $1 billion by 2021. Supreme Court lawyer Pradeep Rai said, “Any kind of gambling, either it is offline or online, falls under the same offence similar to hate speech and hate writing. It’s an organised crime offence which has taken place. Online gambling in a state like Maharashtra is completely banned whereas a state like Sikkim allows for the sack of revenue consideration. Any game, which has a monetary part, is considering to be an offence”

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