Monday, February 27, 2012

Things fall apart for the King of Good Times

"Whatever the situation, do not neglect alcohol. No other refreshment will do. Yes, alcohol kills brain cells but it's very selective. It only kills the brain cells that contain good sense, shame, embarrassment and restraint," wrote, author P.J.O'Rourke in his book, The Bachelor Home Companion. 
This describes the paraphernalia of the situation the Indian liquor and airline baron, chairman of United Breweries Group (UB) and MP, Vijaya Mallya, often known as the King of Good Times (for whatever reasons), is in. 

While Kingfisher (KF) Airlines appears to be in a state of quandary, the liquor baron has come out openly seeking the government to bail out his airline. Responding to the Airline's request, though reluctantly at first, the government gave a nod for it. 

Now, why should the government help a private airline (financially)? What is its motive behind this? Will other airlines follow suit if government offers a bail-out package to KF? are few of the many questions lingering in our heads.

But, there is more to the crisis than meets the eye. 

The merger of Air India with Indian Airlines and that of Kingfisher prepared ground for the downfall of the Airline during 2007-08, unexpectedly. There was another merger of Kingfisher with Air Deccan, two humongous loss-makers, during the same time that contributed to further losses. The merger of KF and Deccan was hailed as a merger which would make KF Airline the largest player in the domestic aviation market and pave way for Mallya to fly his flights to overseas destinations.

Cuckoo Paul, associate editor at Forbes India, in her article, brings out the similarities between Deccan and KF Airlines: "The two are joined at the hip in many ways. Brand new planes combined with massive debt, cancelled flights, delayed salaries and frustrated lenders. All kinds of cookie-cutter solutions have been tried to revive them. Yet both remain on the flight path to perdition."

Similarly, in an article published in the DNA in 2007, an analyst from a foreign brokerage house said: "Mallya is taking delivery of the long haul Airbuses in 2008 and there is no way he would have allowed these high-cost assets to sit idle. With Deccan’s permits, Kingfisher will be able to commence international operations by mid-2008, as Deccan completes the mandatory five years of domestic service." 

This has, however, taken a severe beating on KF's brand image which has been treading a dangerous territory for the past few years.

According to a PTI story on official statistics : 

  • The losses for the National Aviation Company of India Ltd (NACIL), which runs Air India, more than doubled from Rs 2,226.16 crore in 2007-08 to Rs 5,548 crore in 2008-09. 
  • Similarly, Kingfisher’s losses rose almost four times from Rs 408.91 crore to Rs 1,602 crore during the same period, the figures have shown. The 2008-09 losses for liquor baron Vijay Mallya’s airline were recorded after its merger with low-cost carrier Air Deccan.

Besides merger, very high fuel costs, the global economic downturn and comparatively low yields due to heightened competition also contributed to the rise in their losses. However, the government has defended its decision for merging the two State-owned carriers saying that the combining their critical mass or size would be a key factor in helping them survive and prosper amid a fierce global and domestic competition.

Aviation industry's vulnerability

Despite incurring heavy losses, the government has offered to help the cash-strapped airline that is unable to pay its employees their pending salaries. Though most of them opine that the government's bail-out plan is not the right and the only solution  (because it, ultimately, involves taxpayers' money), the government (read: politicians) which has benefited and basked in the glory of KF's success, once upon a time, has to repay the former in some way or the other, if not there is a dire threat to the country's economy. Also, politicians have misused their power by having control over the aviation industry, making it more vulnerable than ever. 

The whole saga of Praful Patel, former aviation minister, exemplifies politicians' control over the industry. 
(Here's an article on the controversy). 
For example: A politician telephones Mallya and asks him to book a flight for the guests attending his daughter's wedding. And, why wouldn't the "King of Good Times" do it when he does not have to pay the tax, which is offered as a bait as part of their deal.

Now, why the State Bank of India (SBI), a state-owned Corporation, has to dole out another Rs15,000-crore package to save the limping airline?   

According to a report, despite the 19-bank consortium, of which SBI is a part, had serious misgivings over extending further credit to the sinking airline as their earlier loans have now been listed as non-performing assets, SBI had no option to to heed to KF's demands. As a result, SBI has suddenly broken ranks with the rest to push through the package on its own.

It also raises the question as to whether the norms have been followed by public sector banks in extending the fresh loan to Kingfisher which is on the verge of bankruptcy.

Credit Appraisal Committee Norms Violated

Proposals for such loans have to be vetted by the credit appraisal committee of the bank (a committee, before sanctioning a loan, looks into the company's repaying ability, its assets for security purposes and company's shares value in the market) and the Kingfisher case does not seem to be the type that ought to have easily passed muster. 

In April last year, Mallya got the country's public sector banks, including SBI and Punjab National Bank, to come up with a restructuring package which had them convert their debt into equity.

These banks had to buy shares of the loss-making company at a premium and reduce interest rates on loans. In the process,  the banks had to take a hair cut of Rs 500 crore when the value of Kingfisher shares plummeted to less than half the original value. (Source)

In both cases, SBI has clearly violated the committee's norms by offering a bail-out package.

After SBI offered the bail-out package, its shares plunged 8 per cent over KF's exposure concerns. Despite fall in shares and other woes associated in helping the Airline, the government is still shamelessly supporting it. This also brings to a point about where all the money is coming from. It is taxpayers' money. Here's a detailed analysis by Firstpost on how Mallya flew high on taxpayers money.     

Burden on SBI-affiliated branches 

That being said, there is also a side to the SBI which only its employees are aware of. On one side, this largest banking and financial services institution in the country offers a bail-out package to an ailing airline whose supremo is a billionaire and on the other, it pesters its employees even if there are Non-performing Assets (NPAs) worth Rs 40 to 50 crore (which they are not able to recover. The point, here, is not that it should let go off defaulters without repaying their loans, but to see where it is heading).

In the process, the parent bank (SBI) is not affected, but sub-branches and rural banks affiliated to the SBI bear the brunt. Often, rural banks are blamed for the losses incurred by the parent bank while the latter is excused.   

While the question about who will make up for the losses is open to guesswork, it is high time that Mallya realizes that sometimes "things fall apart" in life. 

P.S:  Here's an article that tells us something we did not know about Mallya.  

Sex education not so sexy in India

Here's the link to my article on YouthkiAwaaz.

The ludicrous episode of three Karnataka ministers watching porn during the assembly session brings to the forefront a significant question of how sex is viewed in our society. Leaving beside how their attempts to justify their action proved futile, this (incident) is a classic example of how soft porn or sex, in our society, has crept from bedroom sheets to public places and other media too.

From Babas, (read: Nityananda Swami’s sex scandal) who are synonymous to Gods in India, to Babus who have left no stone unturned in exploring their sexual side at work, our country has it all. The increasing use of smart phones and Internet also gives a larger picture of how adult content has become all pervasive. Porn clips available for free online provide more reasons than one for people, including children, to watch them. That being said, screening online content is not possible as there is no control over the flow of information on internet. For example, the mini advertisements which appear online on a webpage woo people into buying a product and once the person clicks on the ad, unknowingly, he or she bumps into a porn site. This happens or has happened to all of us, at some point of time, while surfing the net

Further, sleaze in films, a form of adult content, has become acceptable more than ever now. Songs like ‘Chikni Chameli, Munni Badnaam Hui, Sheela ki Jawaani, Bapuji zara dheere chalo’ with perverse meanings and actors dancing in skimpy clothes point to a burgeoning trend in movies normalising adult content. 
And, with some theatres screening only adult movies, we have already allowed soft porn into our lives. Adding to this, certification of movies with voyeuristic content, promiscuity and sleaze as U (Unrestricted Public Exhibition) or sometimes, UA (Unrestricted Public Exhibition but with parental discretion for children below 12 yrs. of age) also needs to be checked. 
This sheer violation of some provisions under section 5A of Part II of Cinematographic Act of 1952, under which the Central Board of Film Certification falls, has made adult content acceptable in society and people are content seeing its proliferation in the new media, even among kids who discuss it.

A survey conducted by MTV and published in Mint, found that sexual awareness picks up somewhere in the late teens and that most youth are sexually active by the time they are 24 years of age. The survey also revealed the gender differences in their attitude towards sexual promiscuity. While one out of two males found sexual promiscuity to be a sign of coolness and sexual prowess for a single guy, the ratio was two for every five females. Similarly, on the issue of sexual promiscuity being a sign of loose morals for a girl, more than one out of two men believed so, while only two out five females thought so. A survey conducted by India Today on ‘sex life of youngsters’ in our country found that urbanisation in India has led to shaping of sexual identities, not only in the physical realm but also in the psychological space. This clearly marks a shift in attitudes towards the concept of sex, while sex and sexuality education still remains largely ignored.

What is Sex and Sexuality Education?
Sex education includes the anatomy of organs, how they function, contraception and prevention of sexually transmitted diseases. But, sexuality education is something that involves sexual personality considering the personal, social, behavioural, emotional, psychological and inter-personal aspects.
The difference between sex and sexuality education is that sex education is biological but sexuality education is social construct and is about identity.

Most doctors, sexologists and psychologists opine that parents have to teach their children sexuality etiquette like they teach social etiquette because they can be the best supervisors than teachers in this matter. While sex education still remains a topic of debate, the age at which one should impart sex education to kids still varies from person to person. This apart, parents must also impart sexuality education as soon as the child recognizes himself or herself. This means, parents should teach their children about their biological attributes and their development. At the same it is also important to help the child regulate and guard his or her physicality. As a result, this can prevent a child from becoming a victim of child sex abuse.

Gender and Identity Issues as part of Sexuality Education
Sexuality education is associated to gender and identity because it includes social, biological and more significantly, individual contribution. It is important to note that gender and sexual orientation can be different from person to person while the anatomy remains the same. So, discussing this makes it easier for children to understand that every person is different from the other individual irrespective of the fact that genital organs remain same. Sex education allows children to be confident and empowered to make choices that will affect not only their own lives but also lives of other people. This also empowers them to stand up to abuse, exploitation and unwanted pregnancies.

Myths about Sex Education
The necessity to impart sex and sexuality education emerges from the fact that there are misconceptions regarding the same. People are either ignorant or know very less about it. Sometimes, they are afraid too. For example, very often one cannot talk about reproduction to a five-year-old child because it can be information overload. Instead, one can explain it from the point of view of contact and attention. Good contact and bad contact, acceptable and not-acceptable attention. Sex education has an impact on child’s psyche too. Depending on the child’s understanding of the subject, parents have to increase the degree of information based on child’s age and ability. A child definitely becomes curious to know what is happening to his or her body during puberty. At that time, instead of complicating the issue, parents have to explain to their kids that the physical changes are normal.

A myth that imparting sex education escalates sexual activity in children also exists. According to the data obtained from Enfold Proactive Health Trust website, a survey of 35 sex education projects conducted by the World Health Organization found that sex education in schools did not encourage young people to have sex at an earlier age or more frequently. The survey pointed out that early sex education delays the start of sexual activity, reduces sexual activity among young people and encourages those already sexually active to have safer sex.

Enfold found a similar sentiment expressed by over 400 high school students surveyed after a course on human sexuality had been conducted for them. “An informed child is the one who knows how it works and therefore, knows whether it is safe to indulge in a sexual activity or not,” says, Dr. Sangeeta Saksena, founder of Enfold Proactive Health Trust. “If an uninformed child wants to indulge in any sexual activity, he or she has to pay the price for his or her choice,” she adds.

Explaining Sexuality to Children
While most parents do not know how to unravel sex as a concept to their children, it is also important that they take cues from children and decided on the right time to talk to their children about sexuality. When children behave differently or throw tantrums to get rid of a relative or a family member, do not shun it away interpreting it as bad behaviour, say experts, who state that it signifies the child’s reluctance to be with that person.

The Role of Teachers
Though there is much hue and cry about introducing sex education into classrooms, the role of teachers in shaping sexuality of a child also matters. A sexuality education teacher should be prepared and comfortable to deal with the topic rather than sweat through a class.
According to an, an online course for teachers, a sex education teacher should use four methods – Information and fact-giving, discussion, various teaching techniques and peer education to teach teens about sex.

Books to Create Awareness
Books also can help the parents to educate children on sex, sexuality and gender issues. Shobhna S. Kumar, director of Queer Ink, a website on gender and sexuality issues, sex education shapes a young person’s skills and knowledge to make informed choices about their behaviour and its consequences. “It is also wrong to use ‘Indian culture’ to hide behind an issue that is crucial in child development that will shape how responsibly or irresponsibly they will live their lives in future,” she said. She suggests some books which can be helpful for parents and teachers to teach sex and sexuality education to children. ‘Girlology: A Girl’s Guide to Stuff that Matters”, “But How’d I Get in There in the First Place?’, ‘The Orange Book – a workbook for teachers’ and ‘ Good Times for Everyone: Sexuality Questions, Feminist Answers’ are some of such books.

The irony is that despite the introduction of programs like Adolescent Education Programme by the Department of Education and the National AIDS Control Organisation in partnership with UNICEF, UNESCO and UNFPA, sex and sexuality education is not being addressed adequately in schools or by parents when there is a dire need for it in an evolving society like ours.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Of Mediotic Creatures and Sensationalism

Of late, I have been observing that every movie, book and article points out to the preposterous or 'mediotic' (media+idiotic) questions newsmen (especially broadcast) ask their sources (people/ officials, etc) in order to sensationalize even the smallest issue on this Earth.
According to the old adage: 'If a dog bites man, it is not news. But, if a man bites dog, that's news.' Nowadays, the former phrase in the proverb also has become News, irrespective of the subject in question.  Adding to this, is the constant pressure on producers to hook the audience to the Television, assuming viewers are idiots watching animate objects move on the screen. 
Well, if they want their TRPs, they should know that asking a person how he or she feels after suffering stab wounds, would not make it EXCLUSIVE but make people switch to another channel that doesn't boast of its "EXCLUSIVE" coverage. Why don't the morons understand that an exclusive story is something that a person/ the organization has done/ acquired or gathered on its own and doesn't appear everywhere, like it does here, on all the news channels.
Meanwhile, Telugu news channels make it even worse. Apart from conveniently making people hate them (news channels and newsmen), they attempt to switch from talking in Telugu to English even if it is not written in the script just to prove their 'journalistic abilities' which make them appear like inabilities instead. That said, speculation (about what's gonna happen in Chintu's house? Who is Chintu's neighbour and all that jazz) is something that (they assume) adds zest to their life and misery to ours. While all this drama exists on one side, ethics are gone to the dogs on the other. 
Well, yes breaking a story gives a KICK to a journalist. But, that person must be aware of the good and bad sides of that story. Journalists, who call themselves that, think they are above law, can unleash their power over the government and unravel the mysteries by telling the truth to people?  Excuse me! You are not given the right to pester people by asking them questions before dying. Asking them how they feel "what? before dying you mean?". You are not there to shoot a video allowing a man to immolate himself, when you can actually save his life instead of 'showing the truth to the world." You'd rather become a hero by throwing that camera in the trash can and rushing that man to the nearest hospital rather than comfortably shooting it like a lifeless object.   
On the other hand, the crime shows on these news channels are some real fun (pun intended). If you are bored in life and do not know what to do, watch these shows. You can learn acting, voice modulation, how to give different expressions and most importantly, you can learn how to act like a ferocious creature with a motive to kill or stab someone. The anchors who narrate a crime story make a mockery of themselves. The narration goes somewhat like this: "Karan looked all tired and exhausted when he returned home. He threw his bag aside and sat on the couch (anchor's pitch rises suddenly). But, he was not aware  of the fact that he was about to kiss hell's foot. (At this moment, viewers are like..."eh...hell's foot?? Where did that come from now?") His beautiful wife, Mallika, was standing behind him at that time. (at this moment, audiences keep wondering what the anchor is trying to say?). And, to know what happened next, come back soon after the BREAK." Well, yeah, viewers want to smash your head now!        
These are some foolish ways to keep the viewers hooked to the television. Why would the viewers want to watch someone who looks like he'd jump out the TV screen and kill them right away? Obviously, viewers would prefer Robert Pattinson drinking their blood rather than some hooligan from some TV0 (or whatever number) eating their head. 
Another instance of 'making a foll out of her/himself' moment' I came across was when this TV news anchor asked how Anirudh ('Kolaveri Di' song composer) was related to Dhanush when the latter had already mentioned that Dhanush was his cousin's (Aishwarya, Rajinikanth's daughter) husband. 
Simply put, those who call themselves journalists should do a reality check and see what they want to do. And, it is not like you can appear before anyone and ask all sorts of ridiculous questions (make a fool out of yourself) when you haven't even read or done enough research on that person/ subject. It is like asking who 'Bapuji' in India without even reading or knowing Indian history or how India got independence.   

P.S. All the Telugu news anchors, please talk in one language, either Telugu or English.