The comma that let a Malaysian airline sneak in
(Any opinions expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily of Thomson Reuters)
AirAsia CEO Tony Fernandes has big plans for his budget airline. This week, the government approved the Malaysian carrier’s proposal to set up a new airline in India with the Tata group – and it happened thanks to a comma.
The Economic Times reported on Thursday, that the punctuation mark saved the joint venture, with India’s foreign investment regulator interpreting a 2012 ministry press note to mean foreign investments were also allowed for newly created airlines.
“The government of India has reviewed the position in this regard and decided to permit foreign airlines also to invest, in the capital of Indian companies, operating scheduled and non-scheduled air transport services, up to the limit of 49% of their paid-up capital,” the Department of Industrial Policy and Promotion said in its press note on Sept. 20 last year.
Had there been no comma after “companies”, things would have been clear. It would have meant foreign airlines could only invest in existing carriers. The newspaper reports that the ambiguous comma allowed finance ministry officials to argue in favour of the 800 million rupee ($15 million) joint venture, even though officials in the aviation ministry questioned it.
It’s not the first time that a misplaced (or perhaps a strategically placed) comma has had an impact on business.
In 2006, a Canadian commission ruled against cable giant Rogers Communications based on its interpretation of a superfluous comma in their contract with Bell Aliant. That comma was worth a million Canadian dollars.
But things did end well for Rogers. A year later, the regulator overturned the decision and decided to go by the French-language version of the contract – which had no errant commas.
Unfortunately, government and legal documents in India (and around the world) are peppered with commas. Bureaucrats would be well advised to improve their grammar and punctuation skills, or risk getting “hanged on a comma“.
(I inserted an unnecessary comma in this post. Where is it? Comment below if you find it)
(Follow Tony on Twitter @tonytharakan)