India Insight

India and the art of the 24-hour economic reform

It’s not every day that India makes such a dramatic move as raising diesel prices, or allowing foreign direct investment in its debt-walloped passenger airlines. It’s certainly not every day that it caps this 24-hour period by allowing foreign investment in retail businesses.

In short, big international companies like Wal-Mart will be able to start their own shops in India, or will be able to buy up to 51 percent of existing retail businesses. This could affect small grocery stores like Nilgiris in southern India all the way down to local street vendors.

The Indian government made all these moves as part of increasingly urgent efforts to firm up its sagging economy. While the diesel price rise of 5 rupees a litre and the retail moves are sure to cause a lot of anger and pain on the part of many Indians, the government has suddenly revealed a desire to think about the collective future of the country.

While sceptics might expect the government to abandon moves that are politically risky, the ruling coalition that implemented the changes — particularly the coalition’s leader, the Congress Party — has silenced its worst critics. The timing isn’t bad either, considering recent corruption scandals that have cast doubt on the ability of the coalition to lead effectively.

So why all the activity all of a sudden? Asia’s third-largest economy was facing multiple threats of a credit rating downgrade. It also has its returning finance minister, P Chidambaram, back in control of the purse.

To pity or not to pity Vijay Mallya

Picture this – You run an airline that never made a profit, you need to pay off $1.4 billion debt from who-knows-where and airports, taxmen and oil companies are pursuing you to get their money back.

You still believe you can turn the airline around. You still believe you will find a white knight who will buy into your carrier and help it back on its feet. You are giving your best to convince investors that your brand-value is still strong, you can still attract passengers – all you need is some hard cash immediately.

And then, suddenly, your airline is forced to cancel dozens of flights because your pilots want their salaries before you are allowed to run the airline, or even negotiate with investors to save their jobs.

Air India: should we shut it down?

Imagine yourself as the chief of an airline company. Here’s how things look there at a glance:

- You’re running an accumulated loss of 200 billion rupees (about $3.6 billion)

- You employ some of the best-paid pilots in the world. They have been known to go on strike whenever they want.

Kingfisher – A Shakespearean Comedy or Tragedy?

State Bank of India Chairman Pratip Chaudhuri took recourse to the Great Bard when asked about what the banks, who now own a substantial portion of the debt-hobbled airline Kingfisher Airlines, would do about its exposure.

“Much ado about nothing,” Chaudhuri said in response to the media frenzy, in a reference to the Shakespearean comedy about two pairs of lovers who are caught in a web of misunderstanding.

Even as he tries to make light of the situation, Chaudhuri, the largest lender to Kingfisher, has reason to be worried. He, himself, is fighting rising bad loans at his own bank and wouldn’t like Kingfisher to add to it.

Europe-bound passengers stranded at Delhi airport

Europe-bound passengers were still stranded at New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi airport on Tuesday, five days after European airports were cut off from the rest of the world by a huge volcanic ash cloud. Some of the affected travellers spoke to Reuters at the airport about their desperate efforts to get home.

Polish tourist Joanna was travelling from Sri Lanka to Poland.

Paolo Ficara, an Italian, has returned to India after a visit to Nepal and Bhutan.

Tomasso Berreti, also an Italian, was supposed to fly back to Italy three days ago.