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Netflix Rejigs Its Biz Strategy, To Replicate India Model In 116 Countries

Netflix, the California-based OTT player, is rejigging its business strategy. To start with it has done away with its initial business of mail order DVDs. The DVD postal service was launched as an alternative to DVD rental stores. This business generates only $ 126 mn of Netlfix’s annual turnover of $ 31.6 bn. Besides, it is also aggressively cracking down on free password sharing among its subscribers. Recently it launched a new password sharing policy in the U.S. which includes paid sharing. This policy is being introduced to all its 231 mn paid subscribers across 190 countries. Also, on the anvil are more streams, like subscription only and ad driven streams. In the first quarter of 2023 Netflix added 1.75 mn new customers as against 7.66 million customers last quarter. Though the customer additions look lower, it is considered a significant turnaround as it had lost 200,000 customers in the first quarter of 2022. Netflix’s India business too is looking up with engagement growing nearly 30 % in the first quarter of 2023 vis a vis last year. This follows lowering of prices by 20% to 60 % in December 2021, leading to deepening the penetration of the market. This also led to a revenue growth of 24% in 2022 as against 19% in 2021. Netflix now plans to replicate the India model to 116 other countries.
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Biopic On ‘Biscuit King’ Rajan Pillai Runs Into Rough Weather

Malayalam superstar Prithviraj Sukumaran, who was supposed to direct and act in the web series Biscuit King, a biopic on Rajan Pillai, seems to have put the project on the back burner. Yoodlee Films, a subsidiary of Saregama, had announced in December 2021 that it was backing the project on Rajan Pillai who died a gruesome death in Tihar jail in 1995. Recently, when Prithviraj and actor Suriya got together for a photo shoot it was speculated that the Tamil superstar was in discussion to act in the biopic. However, Prithviraj’s PR team has now clarified that there is no biopic project and that the director’s next two projects are Empyrean and Tyson. Suriya is now expected to do a cameo role in Empuraan or Prithviraj could star in the Tamil actor’s upcoming movie. It may be recalled that in 2021 when the web series Biscuit King was announced, Prithviraj had said, “This story has it all; ambition, success, a jet-setting lifestyle and then a hubris-induced fall. It will be very interesting to discover what made this charismatic personality tick and to relive his intriguing, complex life”. It now looks like the project has been dropped. The biopic since its announcement had his critics as it was not clear whose version it was — Rajan Pillai’s wife Nina, Nusli Wadi/Sunil Alag combine who dethroned him or Rajan’s brother Rajmohan Pillai.

Amazon’s India Focused Fund To Invest $104 Mn In FreshToHome

The Bengaluru-based FreshToHome now has the financial backing of Amazon. Through its India-focused Smbhav Venture Fund, Amazon has made $104 mn series D funding.  The 2015 incubated FreshToHome sells fresh fish and meat to consumers in South Asia and Middle East. FreshToHome would be a right fit for Amazon, which of late has expanded to the grocery and fresh category leveraging on its logistics infrastructure in South Asia. During its first phase of funding two years back, FreshToHome, raised $121 mn from Investment of Corporation of Dubai, IronPillar, Ascent Capital and US Government’s DFC. FreshToHome is one of the largest players in the $ 100 billion Indian fish and meat market. The size of the market indicates that India is not just a vegetarian country. FreshToHome plans to change the existing market set-up, run on age-old systems. The company proposes to bring in better efficiency by first streamlining the sourcing infrastructure of meat and fish. This will be backed by improved quality of produce and delivery time by using its own processing plants and vast supply chain network. “Customers ordering fish from Delhi to Dubai on a Monday, get their purchases delivered the latest by the next day,” says Shan Kadavil, co-founder and CEO of FreshToHome.  The company today serves over 4,000 fishers and farmers and millions of customers in over 160 cities in India and UAE.

Will Air India’s Mega Aircraft Order Spell Doom For Air-Transit Business From India?

Air India’s mega aircraft order is expected to spell doom for the air-transit business from India. Also, the major beneficiaries till date, Emirates, Qatar and Etihad Airways will have to rework their strategies like Singapore Airlines, British Airways and Gulf Air did when the Gulf airlines took over the India transit business. Air India’s order for 40 Airbus A350s, 20 Boeing 787s and 10 Boeing 777 -9s wide-bodied aircraft will see it offering multiple daily direct flights to all premium destinations in USA, Europe and Canada. Air India plans to have daily flights from Mumbai, Delhi and Bengaluru to major U.S. cities, EU capitals, Australia and Canada to start with. The Gulf-based airlines have been fleecing Indian travellers transiting through Dubai, Doha and Abu Dhabi, to USA and Europe with huge fares during the peak season. The trips are often camouflaged with free stopovers, lodging and site-seeing trips. Air India’s planned direct flights to USA and Europe should see the fares drop by as much as 30% to 40%. And more importantly, the flying time saved would be four to five hours plus stop over time which is a minimum of two hours. Gulf airlines will now have to rework their India strategies by cutting fares and reducing the number of connections. Some of them may look to tie-up/acquire one of the Indian domestic carriers. As things stand, Qatar Airways was in talks with Indigo and SpiceJet. Experts feel the weaker ones like SpiceJet and Go First could be the first to be approached.

GEMS Education Scouting For Partner

The Gulf-incubated GEMS Education, run by second generation entrepreneur, Sunny Varkey, is on the lookout for a long term partner, failing which it will go for an IPO. The $ 6 billion valued GEMS, is the largest non-Government operator of private kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools in the world, teaching 140,000 students from 175 countries. Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs have been given the mandate to find a long term partner for GEMS by mid-2023. The hunt for a partner follows private equity firm CVC’s decision to exit its over 30% stake in the world’s largest private school operator. According to informed sources, ADQ (Abu Dhabi Developmental Holding Co) and real estate developer Alder have shown interest in GEMS. Sunny Varkey, who started in the healthcare business, later moved to run GEMS started by his parents. Varkey in a recent interview stated that he has no plans to relinquish majority stake in the company. In fact, he stated that he would prefer long term partners like sovereign wealth funds, infrastructure funds or even pension funds. And if the current exercise to find a long term partner fails, then the group will have no option but to go in for an IPO.
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Italy-Based Lamborghini Group Plans To Invest In Kerala

The Lamborghini group is looking at opportunities to invest in Kerala in the areas of luxury flats, apartment complexes and boutique hotels. Tonino Lamborghini, son of the legendary Italian businessman, Ferruccio Lamborghini, is currently in Kerala enjoying the backwaters, cuisines and ayurvedic spas. He also found time to meet the Kerala Industries Minister P Rajeev to identify areas of investment and tax holidays. The group is also interested in partnering with local businesses and also exploring manufacturing opportunities for some of its products. Despite hiving off its famous luxury car business to the Volkswagen group, the Lamborghini family still retains the brand name. The Lamborghini brand has under its belt a line of luxury products like watches, mobile phones, sunglasses, perfumes, bags, clothings and boutique hotels. The group is also looking at partnering with Indian companies to help their brands enter the worldwide market. Tonino also expressed a desire to set up an electric car manufacturing unit. To start off, he felt golf carts would be an ideal area to enter. Tonino is visiting Kerala with his partner, Angela Kriegar and Usman Rehman, MD of Times World group and brand ambassador of the Lamborghini brand in Dubai.

Trivandrum Airport May Lose International Airport Status

It’s rare that the Chief Minister of a State goes out of his way to torpedo an expansion plan. That’s what’s happening in the case of Trivandrum Airport which needs to expand and extend its 3.1 km runway to meet the International Civil Aviation Organisations (ICAO) specifications. For expansion, an additional 18.5 acres of land adjoining the present airport has already been earmarked. Out of this, 16 acres are government land and the balance in private hands. The Adanis, who operate the airport, have been after Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan for the release of land. Pinarayi seems to be sitting on the proposal. ICAO has given Trivandrum airport time till December 2023 or lose its International airport status. This will mean stoppage of all international flights to and from Kerala’s first international airport built on land given by the Travancore Maharaja. The airport operates 120 international flights per week. Pinarayi’s ire follows the State government’s failure in its bid to take over Trivandrum airport from AAI. Two of Kerala’s greenfield airports — Kochi and Kannur — are run by the private sector with the State Government being the principal shareholder. Despite being world class, Pinarayi’s home town airport at Kannur is struggling for want of traffic and passengers. If the CM hopes that by blocking Trivandrum airport’s expansion Kannur could benefit, then he is totally off the mark going by the distance between the two places.

Is Modi Going Ahead With ‘One Nation One Election’ Plan?

The Narendra Modi Government is believed to be going ahead with its move for a ‘one nation, one election’ plan. Though the plan has not found favour with the main opposition parties. The next Lok Sabha elections is expected to be simultaneously held along with 12 assembly elections. To accommodate this, the Election Commission will have to tweak the dates and even consider advancing the next Lok Sabha elections by a couple of months. The tentative period being considered is believed to be December-January 2023-24, according to informed sources. While the next Lok Sabha elections are due in April-May 2024, the assembly terms of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Telangana will end by  December 2023 and Mizoram by mid December 2023. The other states being roped in for the mega election plan are three non-NDA ruled states with BJP affinity — Andhra Pradesh, Odisha and Sikkim. The term of these assemblies are scheduled to end by June 2024. And also in the mega election plan are two BJP ruled states, Haryana and Maharashtra, where the elections are due in November 2024. If mega election plan fructifies it will bring down the cost of holding elections across India. The cost of the last Lok Sabha elections was around $ 7 bn (approx. Rs 56,000 crore, up 40% from the previous election. The US spend for its Presidential and Congress elections is around $ 6.5 bn.
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Giant Cut Outs Of Messi, Ronaldo, Neymar Spring Up All Over Football Crazy Kerala

There is no end to the football frenzy in Kerala. Huge cut-outs of Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo and Neymar have sprung up at street corners across Kerala. What takes the cake this World Cup are the cut-outs in the middle of paddy fields much to the consternation of municipal corporations. It is estimated that Keralites spent over Rs 4 crore on cut-outs in the Malabar region alone during the 2018 World Cup. This year the figures are expected to double. And if this is not enough the frenzy has moved on to another level. Around 17 football fans pooled their resources to pick up an old house for Rs 23 lakh at Mundakkamugal, near Kochi to watch the World Cup matches with friends. The house has been converted into a viewing gallery with the walls adorning flags of the 32 teams participating in the Doha World Cup and also portraits of Messi and Neymar. No match is enjoyable without loud cheering, fun and friendly banter, says P H Harris, one of the house owners. Following up on their elders, school kids from Perambra in Calicut and Shoranur in Palghat petitioned their Principals to wrap classes early so as to enable them to watch their favourite matches. At Doha Keralites make up the fan clubs of England, France, Brazil and Argentina. In fact, Keralites have their own football league in Doha, with teams named after each district of Kerala.
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UAE: American Style Casino Coming Up As Oil Goes Down

With oil on the decline, UAE is rolling out the red carpet to attract all kinds of tourists from all round the world. The latest introduction would be an American style Casino at UAE’s sixth largest city, Ras Al Khaimah by 2026. The Wynn Marjan casino cum resort will be located on Dream Island, an unused area of Ras Al Khaimah’s Marjan Island. The integrated resort will come up in a 18,500 sq m area and would be double the size of Wynn’s Las Vegas property. The emirate’s tourism development authority is believed to be writing gaming laws for the casino using Singaporean and US regulations as the base. For this purpose, a new Department of Entertainment and Gaming Regulator has been set up to consider the social, cultural and environmental impact of the emirates. It will also cover issues of licensing, taxation, operational procedures and consumer safeguards, according to Ras Al Khaimah Tourism Development Authority. The proposed casino is expected to be one of the 10th biggest casinos in the world. The biggest casino in Asia is The Venetian at Macau. It is also the second biggest casino in the world with a Venice theme in an area of 51,000 sq m. Wynn Resorts will initially operate the casino on its own for some period of time.
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‘The Kerala Story’ Movie Runs Into Trouble

The Hindi feature film, The Kerala Story, directed by Sudipto Sen has kicked up a row. In the teaser now on YouTube, a burkha-clad woman states that her name is Shalini Unnikrishnan and she wanted to become a nurse. “Now I am Fatima Ba, an IS terrorist held in a jail in Afghanistan.” She goes on to state that 32,000 girls like her have been converted and many buried in the deserts of Syria and Yemen. The teaser has received both criticism and praise. Sen has claimed that former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had stated, “Every year 2800 to 3200 girls are converted to Islam and so it worked out to 32,000 in 10 years. CPM MP John Brittas has requested Union Home Minister Amit Shah to take “swift action” against the “mischievous” teaser of the film. A Chennai-based journalist has written to the state Chief Minister seeking an enquiry. Some politicians in the state have called for a ban on the film. The Trivandrum City Police Commissioner has sought legal advice on the letter on what action could be initiated. Adah Sharma, the actress in question, has tweeted the teaser of the movie with the hashtag #TrueStory. The producer, Vipul Shah, has been silent on the controversy.

Who is Thushar Vellappally Named By KCR In Operation Lotus?

Kerala politician Thushar Vellappally is in the eye of the storm with Telangana Chief Minister, K Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) naming him as the kingpin behind BJP’s Operation Kamala to woo TRS MLAs for Rs 50 crore each. Son of SNDP leader Vellappally Nadesan, Thushar heads Bharat Dharma Jana Sena (BDJS) and is State Convenor of NDA Kerala. BDJS has not really made any inroads in Kerala. But Home Minister Amit Shah has found Thushar very resourceful. He came close to Amit Shah because of an incident in UAE where he was arrested for defaulting on a payment of Rs 6 crore. Following his arrest, Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan was approached for help. But, since it was a country-to-country issue, the CM directly requested the Home Minister to intervene. Shah moved in quickly and UAE agreed to release Thushar provided that the overdue amount was deposited in a local bank. This condition put everyone in a spot. But Vijayan tapped his good friend, LuLu Group’s MA Yusuff Ali to do the needful which he duly obliged. Thushar was released, and all cases against him in the UAE withdrawn. The so-called Shah and Vijayan link ensures that the Congress-led UDF remains out of power in Kerala and the CPM remains BJP’s default team.
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Reliance Retail Eyes Kerala-based Hypermarket Chain, Bismi

Reliance Retail is eyeing the Kerala-based hypermarket and electronic store Bismi, owned by the first generation entrepreneur VA Ajmal. Bismi operates 30 electronics and grocery retail chains across Kerala. Each Bismi Hypermarkets which are a combination of food, groceries and electronics operate in premises of 30,000 to 40,000 sq ft. The standalone single format grocery stores occupy 10,000 sq ft. Started in 2003, Bismi generates a business of Rs 750 cr per annum. The company hopes to achieve a turnover of Rs 4000 cr in the next couple of years. On the anvil are 40 plus Bismi Hypermakets and electronic stores in tier-2 cities across the country. Informed sources said that the talks with Reliance Retail are at an advanced stage and should have been concluded by Diwali. The Bismi valuation is the vicinity of Rs 600 crore. However, Ajmal has refused to confirm nor deny the deal. Reliance Retail today operates 2000 brick and mortar grocery stores across India. It also operates JioMart, an e-commerce platform. The Indian retail market is estimated at $ 900 billion.

Kerala’s Left Front Govt’s App Hailing Cab Service Hits A Speed Breaker

The adage that governments should not be in business is turning out to be true as far as the App hailing cab service launched by Kerala’s Left Front government goes. Launched on August 17, Kerala Savari seems to have come a cropper. Over 5000 trips were cancelled. A closer look reveals that 5,141 trips were cancelled by the drivers registered with the app while the user cancellation was only 76. According to officials, drivers tend to go for more attractive deals on other private apps and cancel the rides. The private auto services are charging Rs 55 for a minimum distance with Rs 23.50 being added for every one-half km, which is much higher than the standard rate fixed by the government. The slew of cancellations have eroded the trust of the users at a time when the app is available only in Trivandrum city limits on a pilot basis. However, it failed to take-off due to technical glitches for two weeks. The hiccups raised concern among drivers who enrolled for the taxi app. They also complained of no effective marketing strategies. The CPM has been at the forefront of such foolhardy decisions designed to give its historically militant labour unions a leg up on the employment front. A recent example was the government’s failed attempt to take over the Trivandrum Airport which went to Adani.

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BYJU’S Shutting Down Trivandrum Unit

BYJU’S, which recently announced the retrenchment of 5% of its 50,000 strong staff in a phased manner, has now gone ahead and shut down its Trivandrum office. The Kerala government’s General Education and Labour Minister, V Sivankutty in a Facebook post has stated “It is alleged that BYJU’S has closed down its Trivandrum office at Technopark, forcing its employees to resign.” More than 170 employees with the Trivandrum unit have told the Minister that they are seeking compensation and pending salaries. Technopark Today, the community media platform, reported that BYJU’S employees were demanding “payment of salary for the month of October 2022 and one-time settlement of salary for the upcoming three months, from November 2022 to January 2023.”Also, “they have demanded encashment of earned leave and full settlement of variable pay as applicable to each employee.” BYJU’S which commands a valuation of $ 22-billion announced a slew of belt tightening measures after posting a loss of Rs 4,588 crore for the fiscal of 2021. Apart from retrenchment of its staff, the company announced that it is optimising its marketing budget, prioritising spends, reducing operational cost and integrating multiple businesses. The company put the blame of its losses in 2020-21 due to the operations at WhiteHat Jr.

Indian Downloads Slower Than In Nepal, Pakistan & Sri Lanka

With 5G being the flavour of the times, the emphasis on the present day mobile and broadband speed is turning out to be low priority.  According to Ookla Speedtest Global Index, the Indian ranking in media mobile network speeds as well as fixed broadband speeds globally has slipped marginally from 117 and 78 respectively to 118 and 79 respectively. However, the median download speed marginally increased from 13.52 Mbps in August to 13.87 mbps in September. In the case of fixed broadband median the average speed also increased from 48.29 Mbps to 48.59 Mbps. For the record, China tops the Speedtest Global Index with Shanghai as the fastest city with a median download speed of 158.63 Mbps for mobile networks. During its trail phase, the Indian 5G networks have generated a download speed of 500 Mbps. The Ookla report also goes on to state that close to 90% of existing Indian mobile owners will shift to 5G as and when it comes about. Reports indicate that it will take from two to three years for 5G to cover the entire country. Till then Indians will have to live with the present download speeds which puts India’s ranking lower than Nepal (115), Pakistan (116) and Sri Lanka (117).

Bandicoot Company Launches Gait Training Solution For Paraplegics

Kerala-based GenRobotics, which introduced Bandicoot, the robotic scavenger, is now getting into robot-assisted gait training solutions. Called G-Gaiter derived from the word Gait (manner of walking), it helps to speed up rehabilitation of paraplegic patients. The product is assembled with the world’s first Pneumatic Leg Orthosis Technology-G Plot. It is designed to maximise muscle strength, range of joint motion and gait function of paraplegic patients. G-Gaiter aims to make a difference in the lives of millions of people by assisting them in the recovery of paraplegic conditions caused by spinal cord injuries, stroke, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy, accidents, war injuries sustained by soldiers etc. Unlike the conventional method, G-Gaiter provides an AI-powered natural gait pattern which helps to reduce therapy load and enables efficient and effective recovery. The tagline says it all “Run back to walking”. Genrobotics, which came to limelight for introducing Bandicoot, a robotic machine which cleans any type of manholes, is backed by marquee investors like Anand Mahindra, Zoho Corporation, Rajan Anandan, Unicorn India Ventures and SEA Funds.

How Greenikk Is Reimagining Banana Value Chain

Kerala start-up Greenikk, has set up the country’s first full-stack supply chain connecting banana cultivators, traders and exporters on a single platform. Greenikk has built Enabled Centres (ECs) in major producing agri-belts in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka. These ECs provide farmers with finance, seeds, crop advisory, insurance coverage, agri inputs including weather tips and market connect. It is covering the entire gamut of production and marketing both within the country and outside. Following its initial success, Greenikk plans to set up similar ECs in Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and the rest of the country. On the selection of bananas, the promoters Fariq Noushad and Pervin Jacob said that “After working with banana farmers, dealers and buyers, we realised that it has the maximum potential among all fruits grown in India, if linked to a strong and reliable value chain that would scale up exports.” India accounts for 25% of the world’s banana production at 32.6 million tonnes in a land area of 9.6 hectares with 10 million stakeholders. Greenikk also helps to convert stems of the post-harvest banana plants into natural fibre and re-purpose the other left overs as manure and poultry feed to ensure supplementary income for the farmers and curb pollution.

Apollo Hospitals Pick 60% Stake In Ayurveda Hospital Chain AyurVAID

Apollo Hospitals is diversifying into the ayurveda business. The hospital chain has acquired a 60% stake in AyurVAID, a pioneering chain of new generation Ayurveda hospitals, for a consideration of Rs 26. 4 crore. Cochin headquartered AyurVaid, operates nine hospitals and clinics across India. The hospitals are located at Kochi, Gurugram, Uttarakhand and Bengaluru. Bulk of Apollo’s investment will go towards upgrading existing facilities, setting up new centres, strengthening enterprise platforms and digital health initiatives. AyurVaid, which has set up new generation ayurveda hospitals with around 150 beds, specialises in applying Ayurveda to solve modern health problems. “We believe there is immense scope to deliver evidence-based integrated medicine, combining allopathic and traditional models, to improve outcomes and quality of life of our patients,” according to Pratap C Reddy, Chairman, Apollo Hospitals. Elaborating on the acquisition, he said that it is a transformational journey which will lead to the evolution of care models In India and around the world. Apollo hopes that its investment will push the turnover of AyurVAID from Rs 15 to Rs 100 crore in three years’ time.
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Casting Couch Allegations Against Ollywood Producer Akshay Parija

The only refreshing break in the ongoing slugfest between BJD and BJP in Odisha is the Ollywood casting couch allegation going viral with newspaper headlines screaming that an eminent high profile Ollywood film maker Akshay Parija has joined the unenviable list of men who have been accused of sexual harassment, assault and misconduct. Me-too campaign has hit Odisha. Akshay, is an NRI film producer who makes both commercial and parallel cinema. He is in talks with Zee Sarthak for a tie-up. This national award winner has won acclaim for his documentaries on environment issues such as Kadvi Hawa, Agastya, Paiko Bidroho, Kehi Nuhen Kahara and others. According to a FIR filed by a lady in Bhubaneswar Parija established physical relation with her, against her will at her house by luring her with an offer of a role in a film and threatened her if she dared to marry anybody else. It seems to be endemic in the film industry globally. In the case of the Odisha film industry it seems to be rocked by controversies. Popular actor Babushaan’s wife Trupti Satpathy stopped his co-star Prakruti Mishra from boarding an auto-rickshaw for having an affair with her husband. Earlier, actor Anubhav Mohanty and his actress wife Varsha Priyadarshini hit headlines over their marital discord.
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In Kerala, PFI Raids Were Conducted By NIA’s Central Team With Local Police In The Dark

Two days before the simultaneous raid by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) on Popular Front of India (PFI) premises on September 22, 10 companies of CRPF numbering 750 were flown from Ranchi to Kerala. In other states the raid was conducted by NIA officials of the respective states. But in Kerala it was led by the central team. Even Kerala Police were in the dark barring the State DGP. The raids on the PFI top leader’s residences and various offices across Kerala started around 3 am. The arrest, confiscation of computers/laptops, documents, vouchers etc were completed by 6 am. Before the PFI workers got wind of the raid, top leaders like chairman OMA Salam, president CP Mohammed Basheer and 17 others were already on a flight to Delhi’s NIA court.The raids were successful because 20-odd NIA personnel were camping in Kerala for two months disguised as shop workers monitoring PFI’s activities. Taken by surprise the PFI vented their frustration by calling for hartal and destroying public properties. The Enforcement Directorate revealed that a Malayalam newspaper Thejas was not only PFI’s mouthpiece both in India and Gulf but also a conduit for hawala funds. It seems Darbar Restaurant in Abu Dhabi was the hub through which all hawala transactions were made. Also unraveled were acquisitions of hotels/ villa projects in Munnar and a flourishing spices trade, all part of PFI’s funding.
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Australia Woos Indian Students With Unique Skill Oriented Courses

Australia is the latest country to woo Indian students in a big way. In order to avoid competition with traditional destinations, like the US, UK, Canada and Ireland, Australia is offering unique courses to attract Indian students. Skill oriented courses are the ones being targeted to Indian students. Also the Study Australia programme gives enough weightage to enhancing employability skills. After Covid, the Aussie government has gone all out to launch a marketing campaign to attract more students to the 40-odd Universities there.  According to Vik Singh, Program Director, Digital Education Hub, Australian Trade & Investment Commission, of the 260,000 international students studying in various Universities in Australia, 130,000 are from India. The students who go the Australia do not go for the conventional courses. The courses most in demand are those related to sports, healthcare nursing and aged care, he added. The post-study work opportunities being offered has now been made more attractive for Indian students. The Aussie government recently increased the post-study work rights from two years to four years for students pursuing select bachelor degrees. Three years to five years for select post-graduate degrees and four to six year for select PhDs. And it has also made available scholarships at the national and institutional levels. Australia intends to offer world class education, strong career pathways and unmatched lifestyle for students.
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Toyota, Honda Bet Big On Hybrid Models For The Indian Market

There has been a mad scramble among Indian automobile companies to get on to the EV bandwagon. But Toyota Motors, the world’s top car maker, is treading a different path to attract new Indian auto buyers. Toyota has taken the hybrid route. Twenty years back, Toyota introduced hybrid cars through the Prius brand. Today hybrids have given way to EVs led by Tesla. . But Toyota does not think Indian consumers are ready for it due to infrastructure and charging bottle-necks. In fact after the launch of Toyota Hyrider and Maruti’s Grand Vitara comes the news of Honda’s entry with City Hybrid. According to Takuya Tsumura, CEO, Honda Cars India, “ EVs may be picking pace but Honda believes that strong hybrids are currently the best bet for India as they are practical and worry free given the state of charging infrastructure.” Hybrids combine the power of petrol engines and the fuel savings of electric motors to give you lower emission without waiting for the battery to be recharged. Hybrids are environment friendly, require less maintenance and get a higher resale value but compared to EVs they have less power, higher upfront cost and high repair cost.  Toyota feels that the Indian market is just not ready for the latest offerings in the international market but Korean makers like Hyundai are offering the best of technologies and latest gizmos to attract Indian buyers.
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Dhanvarsha Group Makes Hostile Bid Of Rs 300 Cr For Dhanlaxmi Bank

Thrissur based Dhanlaxmi Bank has always been in the news for the wrong reasons — labour/union strife, mis-management and hostile takeovers.  The Delhi-based diversified group, Dhanvarsha Group, has made an Rs 300 crore unsolicited bid. The group has offered Rs 11.85 per share as against the market price of Rs 12.45. The bank is not new to takeover bids. ICICI Bank, Kotak Mahindra Bank, Axis Bank and HDFC Bank have all eyed Dhanlaxmi Bank but seem to have faltered at the altar. The first hostile bid was made during its public issue in 1996. Ind Global and the Concept group, both involved in the public issue, intended to acquire controlling stake of the bank. This failed once the media got wind of their interest. To tied-over its problems, the then promoter, R Kalyanaraman (Goodnight Mohan) brought in the Bangalore-based Raja Mohan Rao, who owned JT Mobile. Rao also entered through the back door when the bank’s 2002 public issue bombed. Rao then picked up 37 % stake for Rs 20 crore thereby making him the single largest shareholder ever. By then the RBI changed the rules of the game. No private entity could hold more than 40% in a bank and the voting right for each individual/company was restricted to 10% only. The bank, started in 1927, has Kerala’s two top businessmen, Yusuf Ali (4.9 %) and Ravi Pillai (4.4%) as shareholders.
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Streaming Is King As TV & Cable Players Lack New Content

For the first time ever, streaming usage has claimed the largest share of Television viewing in the U.S. According to Gauge, Nielsen’s monthly total TV and streaming snapshot, streaming notched up 34.8 % of total TV viewing while cable and broadcast came in at 34.4% and 21.6% respectively. Streaming usage increased 3.2 % in July compared to June 2022. Time spent streaming in July averaged nearly 191 billion minutes per week and each of the five measurement weeks in July 2022 now account for five of the six highest volume streaming weeks on record. Streaming majors, Prime Video, Netflix HULU and YouTube each captured record-high shares again in July after doing so in June. Netflix got the largest share of overall TV viewing with 8 % boosted by the nearly 18 billion viewing minutes of Strange Times alone. Both Cable and Broadcast are losing out for want of new content. Both have lost mainly their sports viewers which has moved to streaming with the major OTT players lapping the digital rights. The same trend is repeating in India and the proof of that is aggressive bidding for sports properties by broadcast and cable players. Reliance Viacom18 walked away with the digital rights for the next four years of IPL paying Rs 237.58 billion. Disney Star paid Rs 235.75 billion for broadcast rights. Clearly, the future is streaming.

Bleak Future For EdTech Companies As Kids Go Back To School

The EdTech industry which was booming during the Covid-19 pandemic as parents and students preferred online classes, is now battling for its very own survival. Some are laying off employees, opening offline centres, offering discounts and restructuring their businesses. Byju’s has laid off 500 employees and Vedanta 425. Unacademy has stopped offering complimentary snacks and meals across offices. The economic slowdown is also leading to funding problems. Byju’s which announced raising $ 800 million in March 2022, is yet to receive $ 250 million from two of its investors. Abu Dhabi’s Sovereign Wealth Fund and Qatar Investment Authority are willing to invest but at 40-50% discount. A PwC India report says that funding for EdTech companies has declined 50% in the second quarter of 2022. The funding is now phase-based which is target and revenue driven. The downhill run started once kids started going to school and parents not renewing EdTech services. This has prompted Byju’s, Unacademy, Vendantu, Physicswallah, Eruditus, Lead etc to open offline tuition centres to attract students. The problem was that the industry focused only on growth and not stability, says an industry expert. The EdTech companies have now realised that 360 degree attention is required. The sector needs to communicate clearly so as to ensure students are not misled. More transparency and clarity are required on courses and cost factors.
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High Import Duty Gives Big Boost To Domestic Toy Manufacturers

The Indian toy business is turning traditional. This festival season look out for Lagori games, spinning tops and Gilly-Danda from Funskool. Check out Hasbro’s Monopoly which has Indian cities and locations in Tamil, Malayalam, Telugu and Kannada. Also, Shumee Toys is lining up Janmashtami picture collections and board games on Ramayana and Indian fables this Diwali. The industry owes its new outlook to the hike in import duty from 20% to 60% and introduction of BIS trademark certification. This ensured that low quality imported toys especially from China took a hit. The $ 1-billion Indian Toy industry is no longer a small business, it is set to double by 2025, according to the FICCI-KPMG report. This is still considered minuscule going by the world business which is set to touch the $ 230.64 billion by 2028 from $ 141.08 billion in 2021. Today the unorganised sector has cornered about 90% of the $1 billion Indian toy market. And BIS has issued 800 licences to toy makers. This has resulted in a wave of innovation among desi toy makers. The new products reflect Indian culture and popular themes from various regions of India. The spike in business has also seen big players like Reliance Brands takeover UK toy retailer Hamleys, and pick up 40% in Italian toy maker Plastic Legno SPA’s manufacturing business in India.

Bad Bank, A Non-Starter Till Date

The National Asset Reconstruction Company (NARCL), which was supposed to start functioning in April 2022, is yet to take off. Also known as Bad Bank, NARCL was to acquire bad loans worth Rs 51,000 crore by April 2022. The Bad Bank was supposed to acquire the bad loans from Indian Banks and transfer them to the India Debt Resolution Company (IDRCL) for part-realisation. It is believed that the Bad Banks initial offers to acquire bad debts stunned banks for their low value, raising questions about the validity of the exercise. NARCL offered Rs 80 crore for an outstanding due of Rs 1136 crore from Rainbow Papers. And for Consolidated Construction Consortium Ltd the offer was Rs 60 crore for an outstanding of Rs 2623 crore. In fact, both the offers dwarf the offer of the existing promoters of both the companies. The Bad Bank has been plagued with regulatory issues, talent and operational headwinds.  NARCL now plans to buy 15 accounts aggregating Rs 50,000 crore initially and 38 accounts overall totalling Rs 83,000 crore. The game plan is simple but cumbersome. The banks will transfer their bad debts to NARCL for 15% per cent cash.  Security receipts will be issued for the remaining 85% for which the government has approved a five year guarantee of Rs 30,600 crore. If things go as per plan, NARCL will now kick-off in September 2022.
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Of Black Shirt and Black Flag protests

When Colour Black Make PM, CM See Red

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has taken umbrage at the Congress party’s recent black clothes protest against price rise, saying that “Those who believe in black magic will never be able to earn the trust of the people. Some people are resorting to black magic as they are immersed in despair and negativity. We saw on August 5, that there was an attempt to propagate black magic. These people think that by wearing black clothes, their period of despair will end,” Modi said. What Modi does not know is that the all black protest first started in Kerala, albeit inadvertently. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has been at the receiving end with the opposition waving black flags at almost all his public functions and motorcade. Since the Kerala Police was at its wits end to stop this form of protest, an over-zealous officer issued an order banning not only black flags but also wearing black shirts to CM’s function. This blew up in the face of the cops with protesters across the state wearing black shirts not only at the CM’s functions but also during the assembly sessions. The CM is in a spot of bother these days as an ex-employee — Swapna Suresh —  of the UAE Consulate in Trivandrum revealed that gold was smuggled using the diplomatic channel by the CM’s office.

OTT Boom Spells Doom For DTH Players

The Over-The-Top (OTT) platforms may not have set the cash registers on fire but they sure are gaining traction at the expense of direct to home (DTH) operators. According to latest figures by TRAI, DTH subscriber base has shrunk from 68.52 million to 66.92 million in the last quarter ended March 31, 2022. In fact, the DTH numbers have not been looking good since 2020, when the overall subscribers were 100 million. This dropped to 70.99 million in 2021. The OTTs made their entry in the Indian market in 2019 with Netflix leading the way followed by Amazon Prime. Indian players like Zee5, ALT Balaji, Sony Liv, Voot, Jio Cinema and Disney-Hotstar have cornered 102 million subscribers. This is expected to double to 224 million by 2026. Among the DTH players. Tata Play continues to be the market leader with a share of 33.23 % down from 33.48 %. Bharati Telemedia, ranked second, saw its share drop from 26.36 % to 26.24%. Only two players recorded gains — Dish TV from 22.04% to 22.10 % and Sun Direct from 18.11 % to 18. 43%. Reliance Big TV DTH seems to be nowhere in the picture. The OTTs have also hit satellite channels with many big players like Star, Zee, Sony Colors etc reducing the number of channels in their bouquet, especially in English language.
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Union Bank To Auction Paintings, Watches Belonging To Wadhawans Of DHFL

It is turning out to be the season of precious artefacts owned by controversial people up for sale both at home and abroad. Recently, a watch said to have belonged to Adolf Hitler was sold for $ 1.1 million at the Alexander Historical Auctions in Maryland, much to the consternation of the Jewish community. The timepiece made by German watch firm Huber has a Swastika and initial AH engraved. It was picked up by an anonymous bidder. Also, on the auction table was a dress belonging to Hitler’s wife Eva Braun. Back home, Union Bank of India, is set to auction artefacts owned by scam-tainted Wadhawan brothers of DHFL-fame. During raids at their premises, CBI found rare artworks of S H Raza and FN Souza, luxury watches manufactured by Jacob & Co and Frank Muller Geneve and loads of gold and diamonds. While Raza’s 1956 oil-on canvas painting titled Village is worth over Rs 3.5 cr, FN Souza’s 1964 untitled oil-on-linen piece is valued at Rs 2 cr. The two watches of Jacob & Co and Frank Muller Geneve are worth Rs 5 cr. The gold and diamond jewellery including bangles and necklace were worth Rs 2 cr. Though the Rs 12.5 cr of artefacts recovered is miniscule compared to Rs 34,615 cr losses of DHFL, the consortium of 17 banks say something is better than nothing.


Cooperative Bank Scam Rocks Kerala, 160 Unable To Return Depositors’ Money

Things took a bleak turn for the Kerala Government recently, when the Thrissur-based Karuvannur Cooperative Bank rejected pleas by a customer to withdraw a part of his deposit of Rs 40 lakh. Consequently, the customer’s wife died as they did not have money to meet the hospital bills for a critical operation. After that similar deeds of mismanagement, embezzlement, and non-disbursement of deposits have surfaced not only from the Karuvannur but other cooperative banks across Kerala. Kerala has 1600 cooperative banks in all, with bulk of them controlled by CPM. The Kerala Cooperative Minister, VN Vasan, admitted in the assembly that 160 cooperative banks are unable to return funds to depositors due to financial crunch. The modus operandi of cooperative banks are simple. The political parties/leaders start the bank first in each district and then in big towns. Local leaders at the municipality, block and ward level, head these banks. They then employ their cadre in the bank as clerks, managers, peons, sweepers etc. Then they use their clout and political muscle to garner deposits promising higher rates of interest than scheduled banks. Loans are then disbursed to those who curry favour with the party and leaders. Home Minister Amit Shah, who is also the Co-operative Minister is yet to swing into action as majority of the 98,042 co-operative banks in India are in two politically sensitive states, Maharashtra and Gujarat.

The Complete Picture: Street View Service Back On Google Maps

Six years after being banned, Google is relaunching its street view service in India in partnership with Tech Mahindra and Genesys International. Starting Wednesday (August 3) — Street View — which displays 360 degree panoramic street-level images will be available in Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Nashik, Vadodara, Ahmednagar and Amritsar. Google intends to expand the service to 50 cities by 2022. Starting with Bengaluru, Google Maps will also inform users of the speed limits data shared by traffic authorities. The Mumbai-based Genesys International has been a pioneer in the introduction of street imaging maps in India. Over the next 12 months, Genesys plans to cover all of urban India street imaging, spanning over a million kms. This makes it the largest street imaging exercise in the country. Genesys has the technology and capability to capture almost 150,000 unique kms of street imaging data, according to Sajid Malik, Chairman & Managing Director. To put this number into perspective, the island city of Mumbai is 5000 unique kms. The company is building one of the biggest imaging platforms in India, across both street and aerial, in sync with the Prime Minister’s vision of Digital India reflected in the geospatial policy, added Malik.
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Big Tech Majors Not To Have It Easy In India

The free run that tech majors like Google, Meta, Microsoft, Apple, Twitter, Amazon enjoyed in India will be a thing of the past. Already, they have come under pressure to take down content considered unlawful, inappropriate and disturbing public order. And if Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Minister of State for IT and Electronics has his way, all of them will be paying Indian newspapers and digital news publishers a share of revenue for using original content. The move is being mooted through regulatory interventions, which is expected to happen as part of the revisions being made in the existing IT Laws. “The Indian news publishers have no negotiating leverage at all, and this needs to be tackled legislatively,” said Chandrasekhar in an interview. The market power on digital advertising that is currently being exercised by the Big Tech majors, has already put Indian media companies at a disadvantage. Several countries like Australia, France and Spain have passed rules that require Tech majors to compensate content producers for using their content and search results. It comes as no surprise that spear-heading the Indian initiative is Rajeev Chandrasekhar, a media honcho himself. Chandrasekhar owns two satellite channels, Asianet News and Suravana News and a clutch of digital news websites in South Indian languages.  Incidentally, he was one of the founder-promoters of Republic TV, but sold his stake subsequently.

In God’s Own Country Get High On Wine And Liquor Brewed From Tapioca

Soon tipplers in Kerala will be sipping wine and liquors made from locally grown fruits and it will be relatively cheap. By giving license to make fruit-based, low alcohol content beverages, the Kerala government intends to boost cultivation of bananas, pineapple, jackfruit, cashew and nutmeg in the State. The government has also initiated steps to extract liquor from tapioca, for which it has allocated Rs 2 crore in the Budget.  Studies show that 250 ml of spirits can be produced from 1 kg of tapioca at a cost of Rs 48. Meanwhile, a local cooperative bank, Payyavur Service Cooperative Bank has been given permission to produce liquor from cashew apple on the lines of Goan Feni. The new President of the Cooperative Bank, TM Joshy, had mooted the idea of making liquor from cashew apple way back in 1991. “As the state and its people always hesitate to accept new and non-conventional ideas, my attempt had failed then”, said Joshy. As per rough estimates, farmers are expected to make Rs 300 crore per annum and excise department another Rs 300 crore from production and sale of Feni. It is learnt that liquor and wine made from fruits and vegetables sourced locally will be processed and distributed by the Kerala State Beverages Corporation Ltd (Bevco), which has a wide distribution network.
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Kerala Govt Gets Into Internet Play, To Provide Free Service To 20-Lakh Economically Backward Households

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has issued an internet service provider (ISP) Category B licence to Kerala Fibre Optic Network Ltd (KFON). This enables KFON to provide internet services within Kerala. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan in a Facebook post said that Kerala has become the first state in India to have its own ISP and internet project. Kerala will provide internet services as a basic right to the people. The project announced in 2019 envisages installation of 35,000 km of optical fibre cable (OFC) network across 14 districts in Kerala. Till date 30,000 km of OFC has been laid and connected to 5000 Government offices and 25,000 Government institutions. KFON aims to provide free internet access to 20 lakh economically-backward households. The project also plans to connect government offices, educational institutions, hospitals etc.  KFON will allow telcos and other service providers and community -level networks to offer services to under-served areas. Of the total OFC network, 50% will be leased out to telcos and cable TV operators.  KFON will be able to connect to the nearly 8000 odd mobile towers in Kerala and significantly enhance the mobile call quality and also accelerate the 4G/5G transitions. The project is backed by Kerala State Electricity Board, Bharat Electronics Ltd, Kerala Infrastructure Investment Fund Board and Kerala State Information Technology Infrastructure Ltd.

IT Sector Attrition Rates At All Time High, Demand For Experienced Employees Shoots Up, As Corporates Sigh!

The high attrition levels in the IT industry is turning into a big headache for corporates. Big IT companies like Cognizant, Infosys, TCS, Capgemini, Wipro are witnessing an exodus of employees with five years of experience or more. The reason is amply clear, as salaries have jumped up after the long Covid break. Cognizant saw attrition levels of 40%, Infosys @ 25% and TCS @ 15% to name just a few.  Earlier, someone with five years of experience earned Rs 24-25 lakh per annum. Now the salaries for the same level and experience net an employee Rs 30-38 lakh per annum.  It is not clear if the same is happening for higher level jobs in IT companies but, this is good news for engineering graduates. The IT sector has been a mass recruiter for some years now contributing to 5% of the Indian GDP. But it was saturating with only good skilled IT engineers in demand. All this was before the Covid-19 pandemic. The U.S. produces around one lakh engineers per year in a $ 16 trillion economy. And India produces 15 lakh engineers in a $ 2 trillion economy. With manufacturing, electrical and civil taking a back seat as employment generators, it was the IT sector that has been the saving grace for some time now.

Adani, Piramal In Race To Acquire Union Govt Stake In HLL Lifecare, Declined Kerala Govt May Decide To Play Unfair

The Rs 5,138-crore HLL Lifecare (formerly Hindustan Latex) headquartered in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala is attracting many suitors. This follows the Government of India’s November 14, 2021 decision to hive off its entire stake in HLL Lifecare. Around seven suitors including the Adani Group, Piramal Healthcare, two Kerala based companies advised by two former CMDs of HLL Lifecare, a fund besides NRIs. HLL Lifecare, which started as a condom manufacturer sold under the brand name Moods, is today a health care company in the truest sense. It has a Pharma business, makes medical devices, runs diagnostic centres, manufactures sanitary napkins and blood bags etc. The company has seven factories, four in Kerala and one each in Belgaum, Manesar and Indore. Today the company operates 220 pathology labs, 47 imagery centres, six labs under the Hindlabs brand and 253 pharmacies across India. Both Adani and Piramal are keen to acquire it. The cash strapped Kerala government, however, could play spoilsport since it wants to take over the company although its offer was declined. The company’s turnover jumped three times from Rs 1739 crore in 2019-2020 to Rs 5138 crore, the profit marginally lower than the previous year. The jump in turnover was a result of enhanced non-core activities including huge purchases and supplies of Covid vaccines, surgical masks and gloves for various State Governments and hospitals.

OTT India Grows Regional Traction, Induces Faster Netflix Contractions, Leading To Viewer Tariff Rate Attractions

As if competition from local Indian players was not enough, mainline OTT players are now facing heat from a fresh wave of regional players. Following in the footsteps of Zee 5, Sony Liv, Voot et all are MX Player in Hindi, Tamil, Malayalam, Bhojpuri, Punjabi, Bengali, Alt-Balaji and Eros in Hindi, Hoichoi in Bangla, Aha in Telugu, now expanding into Tamil, Kannada and Malayalam, Manorama Max, Neestream and Koode in Malayalam, Kanncha Lannka in Odiya, My Toonz (Kids OTT in Hindi and English). And, so many more are still lining up. Why is the Indian market turning out to be a different ball game? None of the big players are standalone entities like Netflix. Disney has the backing of Star group and Hot Star, Amazon Prime has Amazon Shopping and online services, Zee 5 has the Zee TV group, Sony Liv is with Sony TV group, Viacom 18 boasts of Paramount + while Sun Next has the parent Sun group. And if this was not enough, there is a new entrant in the form of the James Murdoch-Uday Shankar combine tying up with Reliance’s Jio Cinema. Competition is sizzling up in the OTT space with viewers beginning to feel like kings.

Sliding Viewership On Netflix, Prompts Subscriber Tariff Rejig, For More Online Clicks

Netflix watched its subscription base lose around 900,000 viewers with 700,000 losses attributed to the Russia-Ukraine war and, 200,000 blamed upon other markets. To arrest viewership loss, Netflix is introducing a password sharing fee in the U.S. and other markets. It intends to generate more revenue from existing subscribers, one connection with multiple users. First introduced in Latin American markets, a progress report is awaited but, media pundits predict a further downslide of 10 to 13% in the U.S.A, post launch. After all, the choice is multi-fold. In India too, things aren’t moving as planned. Despite a first mover advantage, Netflix couldn’t hit the bullseye. Indications that more than 50% of content under production is on hold including season two of Delhi Crime. The current Indian content has failed to achieve desired traction milestones. An overhaul, review and new creative ideas are on the cards. Netflix slashed subscription rates a couple of months back to Rs 149 for its mobile pack and Rs 199 for mobile/TV packs. An update is anticipated. Netflix started with a bang with series like Fauda, House of Cards, Peaky Blinders, Money Heist, Friends and Indian series like Sacred Games. Renewed interest piqued through the Korean Series — Squid Game, 365 Days, and now Kota Factory. The latest blockbuster attraction — Gangubai Kathiawadi is expected to renew viewer interest in Netflix.

ITC, Oberoi Vie For Kochi’s Taj Malabar Hotel, Although Tatas Enjoy First Right Of Refusal

One of Kerala’s iconic hotels, the Taj Malabar Resort & Spa in Kochi near Willingdon Island is up for grabs. Cochin Port owns the property built in 1936 and named after the first Viceroy of India, the 1st Earl of Willingdon and, has invited bids. The Taj group which has been managing the property since 1985, is now running it on extension after the expiry of its lease. Cochin Port has invited tenders for a pre-bid meeting for the Port-owned buildings (Malabar Hotel) for a period of 30 years. The last date for submitting the bid is May 6. The Taj group currently pays a lease rental of Rs 71 lakh per annum. Many contenders have lined up for this prestigious property including the likes of ITC Hotels, Oberoi Group and Kerala’s top business names like RP Group, Lulu Group etc. The Malabar Hotel offers stunning views of the Cochin Harbour and the Arabian Sea and can still remain with the Taj Group if they invoke the right of first refusal in the bidding process according to well-placed sources. The Tatas may still retain the property if they match the highest bidder.  A spokesman for the Lulu Group denied being in the race and said that the Group was currently focused on only two properties: the Grand Hyatt at Bolgatthy and Marriott Hotel at Edapally.

Kerala’s Rs 67000 Crore SilverLine Project Needs GoI Backing For 8 Hour Travel Time Saves, As Congress Alleges 10% Kickbacks

Kerala’s hottest topic these days regards the proposed 530 km K-Rail project between north and south Kerala. Also called the Silverline Rail Project, it promises a time save of eight hours in travel time between Trivandrum and Kasaragod, currently taking 12 hours. The Rs 67,000 crore project cost has the Kerala government swearing by a five-year timeline to project completion, though it has taken 15 to 20 years to build simpler by-passes and flyovers in the state. The promise appears too difficult to keep like the 25 km Cochin Metro project that took six years to complete @ 4.7 km per year notwithstanding Metro-man, E Sreedharan at the helm. By this yardstick the Silverline project will need 37 years, says economist KP Kannan. But why the clamour for a project none wants? KPCC Chief K Sudhakaran has alleged a 10% kickback accruing to the Kerala Government. Japanese agency JICA will loan Rs 50,000 crore at 0.25% interest if, the Government of India stands guarantor. Sources say the Union Government won’t oblige till it gets its pound of flesh. Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan’s meeting with the PM Narendra Modi is also being seen in this light. Either way, the railway project is not expecting completion anytime soon!

Vijayan with Thani Al Zeyoudi, UAE's Minister of State for Foreign Trade

Red Flags Turn In To Red Carpet, As Kerala CM Courts Investment

Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan is a changed man. In his heydays, as a CPM trade union activist he red flagged businesses, organised strikes, hartals and lockdowns. But as CM now, his government has rolled out the red carpet to turn Kerala into a popular business investment destination. Recently, he visited the UAE and wooed investors. Ironically, trade union leaders in his party are busy closing down or threatening MSMEs in the name of Nokku Kooli, an euphemism for extortion. What takes the cake is two controversial decisions by Vijayan’s government. After Air India was privatized, handed over to the Tata Group, the Kerala government took back land it provided for AI’s headquarters in Trivandrum. The logic: the land was provided when AI was a Government of India undertaking. For the record the original owner of the land, the Royal family of Travancore and AI had paid for the land. The same government is courting another Tata Group flagship, TCS to set up offices in Trivandrum’s Techno Park. The other googly Vijayan delivered is over the Trivandrum airport, set up in 1932, run by Adani Group. Post privatization, the Left government has placed one too many hurdles on its expansion plans. It will be interesting to see how the Adanis tackle this challenge even as they are struggling to develop a greenfield Vizhinjam port, also located in Trivandrum.
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L To R -- K Balakrishnan, Pinarayi Vijayan & VS Achuthanadan

CPM Trio Scuttled John Hopkins’ Kerala Hospital, Then Scurried To Facility In U.S. For Personal Treatment

The political party that swears by the ideology it preaches in India — the CPM — has failed the test of practice. By ideological standards, Communist leaders should head to Cuba, China for their medical treatment. Only, the preaching stops at the level of party members and the public without applying to the top leadership. At least three topnotch leaders, VS Achuthanadan, Kodiyeri Balakrishnan and Kerala CM Pinarayi Vijayan flew to the USA for medical treatment at the John Hopkins Hospital. Ironically, the same trio had scuttled John Hopkins University’s plans to set up its first University outside the USA in the 1990s, its Asian Institute of Public Health costing Rs 700 crore in Kerala’s picturesque hill station of Munnar. The Congress government headed by AK Antony then, had offered 150 acres of land free of cost as also the promise of local infrastructure. When the John Hopkins team landed in Kerala, however, they were red flagged by the CPM and, on the forefront were Achuthanadan, Kodiyeri and Vijayan. Seizing the opportunity, Singapore’s Li Kuan Yu, sent a chartered plane to fly out the John Hopkins officials from Kerala. The кряк для фотошопа cs5 result: John Hopkins Singapore International Medical Centre, a premier institute in Asia and the World came up in the Island nation instead seriales de activación malwarebytes anti malware 2018 of India
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Photo : HarperCollins

Ratan Tata’s Biography: Dr Mathew Wins But Who Lost?

For journalists, even authors, high prestige also follows penning the Biography of a national icon. If that doyen is Ratan Tata, Chairman Emeritus of the Tata Group, it is most certainly a reiteration that one has arrived. Many wannabe authors had vied to write Tata’s biography but, being introverted, Tata felt the moment was not opportune then. Now, comes the news of Tata’s authorized biography to be published by Harper & Collins, will be penned by retired IAS officer Dr Thomas Mathew who was additional secretary to the late Indian President, Pranab Mukherjee. Dr Mathew has already written two books – The Winged Wonders Of Rashtrapati Bhavan and Abode Under Dome. But, his nomination to write Tata’s life account surprised many corporate watchers and equally upset at least two hopefuls. Well-known in the national capital’s politico-corporate circles neither got the endorsements for the prestigious writing assignment of a lifetime. The two highly networked Page 3 personalities, in their own rights, have been closely associated with the Tata group in various capacities as advisors and strategists for long.  Clearly, one man’s gain is two men’s lost recognition.
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Shashi Tharoor Practices & Preaches Development Sans Negative Politics.

Thiruvananthapuram’s Member of Parliament, Shashi Tharoor dons many hats. He’s famous as a wordsmith, ladies man, trend-setter on social media et al. Even as a politician, he takes on the high and mighty, even from his own party.  On December 16, at the launch of the biggest Lulu Mall of India in Trivandrum he hobnobbed with CPM Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan, even praised him for his development agenda. This, when the Congress led-UDF has launched a concerted campaign against Vijayan’s controversial Rs 55,000 crore Silverline Rail project connecting Trivandrum and Kasaragod, aimed at accomplishing train travel from one tip of the state to the other in four hours flat. While UDF MPs petitioned the Union Railway Minister against the project, Tharoor refused to fall in line to demand more time and discussion before inking of the deal. This is Tharoor’s way of getting back at fellow MPs and party colleagues who backed the Communist government’s blockade of the privatization of Thiruvananthapuram airport. The Congress was against the airport being handed over to Adani although it was the Congress-led UDF’s erstwhile government that handed over Thiruvananthapuram’s greenfield deep-sea port to Adani. For Tharoor, development sans negative politics is the new mantra. Political conversations abound on how he would make a better leader of Opposition in Parliament than Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury.
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Will Ghulam Nabi Azad Do A Capt Amarinder In J&K?

In September there was a strong buzz that the 72-year old Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad who had retired from Rajya Sabha (RS) as the Leader Of Opposition on February 15, 2021 might re-enter RS from Tamil Nadu. But, come the D Day and Azad’s name was missing. Now comes the real story from an insider. Apparently, Tamil Nadu (TN) Chief MK Stalin at the behest of Azad called up the Congress President Sonia Gandhi and said they are willing to support Azad to RS from TN. This telephone call from Stalin to Sonia seems to have irked her. Apparently, she did not like the way the suggestion to elect Azad came from Stalin. Generally, it is the other way round.  Since then the chasm between Azad and Gandhis have widened.  In between Azad, part of G 23, had thawed the ice. All that is history. He has been kept in the waiting mode. Now, the latest buzz is that Azad might do a Captain Amarinder Singh, form a party in Jammu & Kashmir and BJP may support him. It may be recalled that Azad enjoys a very good rapport with the Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the latter even broke down while talking at Azad’s farewell speech in the Rajya Sabha. If Azad sets up his own party it will be a win-win situation for both Azad and BJP.

What’s Confidential About Capt Amarinder’s Talks With Amit Shah & Ajit Doval?

Various theories have been doing the rounds in the Capital ever since Captain Amarinder Singh, former chief minister of Punjab, met with the Union Home Minister Amit Shah and the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval. His meeting with Doval made it loud and clear that Captain was not joining BJP. So, what was the meeting all about? One theory is that Captain came to reveal his game plan of floating his own party and seek an alliance with the BJP so as to not only turf out Congress but also put AAP on the back foot. But, the real reason Captain met with both these gentlemen is to give information on Navjot Singh Sidhu that when divulged or leaked to the media may derail Sidhu’s political career and embarrass the Gandhis for backing him. Captain, it is learnt, is miffed that a die-hard party loyalist like him who was close to Gandhi family since Rajiv Gandhi’s days was given a shoddy treatment by brother-sister duo in order to accommodate a newcomer like Sidhu. So, over the next few months, it will be interesting to watch which way Sidhu’s political graph is headed — North or South?
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L to R clockwise : Santosh Kumar Gangwar, Prakash Javadekar, Sadananda Gowda, Ramesh Pokariyal, Dr.Harsh Vardhan, Ravi Shankar Prasad

Future Uncertain For Veterans As BJP Bets On Young Leaders

When it comes to axing ministers in his cabinet and chief ministers in the States over their performances, Prime Minister Narendra Modi is ruthless. In July this year, Modi shocked and surprised everybody by dropping 12 ministers from his cabinet which included the likes of IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, I&B and Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, and Health & Science Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan. There were murmurs of protests and then came the news that some of the dropped ministers will land top positions in the party or hold gubernatorial positions. But some leaders like Minister of State Babul Supriyo felt badly insulted and decided to switch sides by joining Trinamool Congress. Will more follow as many veterans have lost hope? According to sources in BJP’s HQ, those dropped both at the Centre and States may not return to power or hold important positions in the party as long as Modi is the PM. He adds that Modi has seen their worth and capabilities, so has decided to build the next line of leaders. This exercise was evident in the recent cabinet reshuffle in Gujarat too. Scotching rumours that some of these veteran leaders may join other parties, the source said it is “unlikely.” They will remain permanent party soldiers. Is it? Only time will tell.
ghulam_nabi azad

Will Ghulam Nabi Azad Re-Enter Rajya Sabha From Tamil Nadu?

There is a strong buzz in the Congress circle that the 72-year old veteran Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Azad who retired from Rajya Sabha as the Leader Of Opposition on February 15, 2021 may re-enter the House Of Elders. He, according to knowledgeable sources, may be elected from Tamil Nadu. The Rajya Sabha election is scheduled on September 13, 2021 for the vacancy caused by the death of AIADMK Rajya Sabha member, A Mohammedjan. Political analysts feel since DMK and its allies enjoy a clear majority their nominee is bound to win. It may be recalled that while bidding him farewell, all leaders had praised Azad for his outstanding contributions. Prime Minister Narendra Modi became emotional too. In his farewell speech, Azad shocked and surprised everybody when he said he was among the fortunate people who never went to Pakistan. “When I read about the circumstances in Pakistan, I feel proud to be a Hindustani Muslim,” he said.  Many Congressmen, who respect him, feel he was side-lined as he was one of the signatories to G 23. As always, this former chief minister of Jammu & Kashmir is asking the Modi government to restore statehood before holding assembly polls. One has to wait and watch whether Azad who has always been a picture of grace and dignity will make it again.

After Rahul’s Tractor Rally, Top Cop Asthana's Delhi Takeover Rattles AAP Govt

The tractor rally to Parliament House on July 26 by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi caught everyone by surprise. It left the Union Home Ministry, Arvind Kejriwal’s government and the Delhi police red faced. It was an intelligence failure. According to “The tractor was sneaked into the area in a container, secretly offloaded at the office of Congress Rajya Sabha MP KTS Tulsi at Moti Lal Nehru Marg, about one and a half kilometres away from the Parliament.” The damage was done. Senior IPS officer Balaji Srivastava who took over as the 23rd Commissioner of Delhi on June 30, 2021 was immediately replaced by Director General of Border Security Force Rakesh Asthana. Some feel it was a good excuse to remove Srivastava and replace with a loyal Asthana. A 1984-batch IPS officer from Gujarat cadre, Asthana was appointed as Delhi police chief, three days before he was to superannuate. Now, in addition to Lieutenant Governor Anil Baijal, the Kejriwal government will also have to deal with Asthana. The AAP government passed a resolution in the Assembly: “It is beyond any reasonable understanding as to why a controversial officer who was removed by this Central Government from the post of Special Director CBI in October 2018 and was not considered fit for the post of CBI director only very recently, is being imposed on Delhi Police.”


Technology Cannot Disrupt Original Content Provider: Short Post Editor

They say time flies. How true!  Today is our #SecondAnniversary. Two years back at the height of Covid-19 Pandemic when lockdown was the way of life we took a leap of faith and launched Short Post (Jan 28, 2021), the first-of-its-kind website in the country that focuses on Authentic Gossip. The Oxymoron is deliberate. Well, the response has been quite encouraging. That’s what has kept us going. Till date we have posted close to 2000 stories in the areas of Politics, Business, Entertainment and Sports. Each insightful story of around 225 words has been contributed by Senior Editors. There is a sense of satisfaction of creating a new segment in the market – authentic gossip — and in the process creating a brand (in a limited sense), creating demand (readers) and creating supply (writers). Well known advertisers — IDFC FIRST Bank, ICICI Lombard – supported us.  And that really boosted our confidence. Thank you!

So here we are raring to go.  But, when I look at the media landscape the disruption is indeed fast and furious. Technology is playing a very big role in how content will be consumed. In the past, we have seen how social media has disrupted the media world. Now, everybody is saying the same thing about ChatGPT. It has reached 1 million users in five days. Its scorching pace of growth is indeed frightening and will disrupt the media industry big time. My limited argument is can it do investigative stories, write gossip items using the digital world ecosystem. Unlikely. Clearly, the original content has to be created first — only then can ChatGPT do the magic. That’s what we promise to do – focus on original content.

Before I sign off, I am reminded of an old advertisement of the early sixties: “Avis is only No.2 in rent a cars. So we try harder”. Likewise I can say, we are two years old and we are trying even harder to be relevant to you readers.