Maharaja on sale: on move to sell 100% stake in Air India

Almost two years since the first attempt which failed to enthuse buyers, Air India is back on sale. Call it the government’s desperation to exit the troubled airline that is devouring tax-payer money or call it smart learning from the last failed attempt, but the terms this time are exceptionally favourable and clearly appear to be tailored based on feedback from prospective buyers. As per the document inviting Expression of Interest (EOI), the government will sell 100% equity in the national carrier and Air India Express Ltd. and its 50% holding in AISATS, the joint venture with SATS Ltd., Singapore; the debt that the buyer will assume has been whittled down to ₹23,286.50 crore to match the written down value of its assets; the net worth of prospective bidders is reduced to ₹3,500 crore and bidding consortium members can have as low a stake as 10% only. It almost appears as if the terms are designed with specific bidders in mind. But there is one catch. The government has not
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Alarming spread: on novel coronavirus outbreak

India is still novel coronavirus free, even as 18 countries/regions have reported 67 cases, as on January 28, according to WHO. As on Monday, all 20 samples sent to the National Institute of Virology (NIV), Pune were negative, according to a Health Ministry tweet on Tuesday. Besides the NIV, four other laboratories have been equipped for testing. Thermal screening of passengers from China will now be extended from seven to 20 airports; around 33,000 passengers have been screened so far. With Nepal reporting one case, another Health Ministry tweet says, “adequate preparedness for screening” is in place in five adjoining States. But it must be noted that in 2017, the Ministry kept under wraps the detection of three cases of the Zika virus in Gujarat. These came to light when WHO was informed in May that year, more than five months after the first case was laboratory-confirmed; the excuse was that the government wanted to avoid creating “panic”. Such irresponsible behaviour by
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Crime and politics: on political candidates with criminal records

The Supreme Court has taken a timely decision by agreeing to hear a plea from the Election Commission of India (ECI) to direct political parties to not field candidates with criminal antecedents. The immediate provocation is the finding that 46% of Members of Parliament have criminal records. While the number might be inflated as many politicians tend to be charged with relatively minor offences —“unlawful assembly” and “defamation” — the real worry is that the current cohort of Lok Sabha MPs has the highest (29%) proportion of those with serious declared criminal cases compared to its recent predecessors. Researchers have found that such candidates with serious records seem to do well despite their public image, largely due to their ability to finance their own elections and bring substantive resources to their respective parties. Some voters tend to view such candidates through a narrow prism: of being able to represent their interests by hook or by crook. Others do not seek to


Abolition politics: on A.P. Cabinet nod to abolish Legislative Council

The abolition and revival of the second chamber in State legislatures have become matters of political expediency. Andhra Pradesh is the latest State to favour the alteration of the status quo regarding the Upper House, in an Assembly resolution for its Legislative Council’s abolition. A.P. Chief Minister Y.S. Jagan Mohan Reddy’s drastic step comes after key legislation intended to take forward his three-capital proposal was referred to a select committee by the Council, in which his party does not have a majority. His grievance: the Council is working with a political agenda to block his proposal. While the need for a bicameral legislature in the States has often been questioned, few would support the idea that the potential difficulty in getting the Council’s approval should be a reason for its abolition. Chief Ministers ought to bear the possible delay that the Council’s opinion or course of action may cause, and seek to build a legislative consensus instead of pushing their


Black and grey: On terror funding and Pakistan

The deliberations, in Beijing, of the Asia-Pacific joint group of the global watchdog on terror financing and money laundering, the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), gave Pakistan some encouraging news: that it had progressed in its efforts to avoid a blacklisting. A final decision will be taken at a plenary meeting of the body, expected in Paris next month: in keeping Pakistan on the current “grey list”, downgrading it to a “black list”, or letting it off altogether for the moment. The 39-member body had determined that Pakistan was to be placed on the grey list in 2018, and presented it a 27-point list of actions. These included freezing the funds of UN Security Council entities such as 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed and the LeT, the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) and other Taliban-affiliated groups. The actions entailed a sustained effort to bring legal action against these groups, and also called for changes to Pakistani law in line with global standards for measures against money

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