Sucheta Dalal :Flight of anger
Sucheta Dalal

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Flight of anger  

May 30, 2005

Last Wednesday, the brand new Kingfisher airline saw a serious fracas at the Bangalore airport, after a flight to Bombay was delayed due to bad weather. Angry customers turned abusive and almost assaulted a staffer. Kingfisher went out of its way to appease irate passengers. It handed out free return tickets, taxi fare in Mumbai and unlimited food until the flight left Bangalore past midnight. Not even the full-fare airlines offer such astonishing compensation.


Kingfisher is not alone in facing passenger wrath. Deccan Airways was forced to accommodate stranded passengers (headed for Chennai and Coimbatore) on alternate airlines only after they turned aggressive and threatened to block its other flights. The no-frills airlines seem to have a shaky business model. Their shoestring operations often leave passengers in a lurch. As in the telecom business, the euphoria of lower prices and multiple options will soon fizzle out unless aviation and airline infrastructure and security issues are strictly regulated and beefed up. A few more such incidents and passengers will realise that anger and abuse get quicker results. Then, it would only be a matter of time before there is violence at airports. Having launched many of these frills, thrills or economy airlines in the last few weeks, the civil aviation minister needs to pay attention to service and compensation. As a safety measure, he must force all airlines to announce their compensation policy in advance so that passengers are clear about their rights and remedies.



Fools' money


The capital market just has to be the biggest congregation of people who are shrewd investors as well as those who are recklessly trying to lose their money. Consider this. ICICI Prudential Mutual Fund runs an exchange-traded scheme called 'SPIcE' - short for Sensex Prudential ICICI Exchange Traded Fund, which is listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange (BSE). Anybody with a modicum of investment knowledge knows that a mutual fund unit, which tracks the Sensex cannot zoom up like a deliberately ramped up equity. Its traded value will track the underlying index. Yet, since end April, the SPIcE units have been sizzling upwards and rose 145 per cent last week, hitting the 20 per cent upper circuit almost everyday. So much so that the traded volume of the units was often more than the corpus of the scheme. Prudential ICICI issued a clarification asking investors ''not to be misled or confuse the above listed unit with that of any other company'' and suspended the issue of fresh SPIcE units. Apparently, many investors who rushed to buy the units believed that they were buying into the equity of SpiceJet - the airline company! But there is also a suspicion that brokers may have had a role in misleading investors and encouraging them into this wild speculation.


Hot speculation:

This column reported how the much-manipulated Vikas WSP stock had turned 'hot' on Internet message boards with postings about a possible 'relisting' on the BSE after announcing excellent results. On Friday, Vikas WSP published its results in an economic daily announcing sales of Rs 50 crore in the March quarter, as against Rs 21 crore in the corresponding previous quarter. Net profit has reportedly jumped to Rs 12 crore from Rs 2 crore in the previous quarter. Strangely, it reports negative staff costs of Rs 9.55 lakh. However, the company's official website ( draws a blank under financials. Given the array of charges against the company and the mysterious hype, the ministry of company affairs may want to investigate its claims again.


Defending whom?

Now that BJP spokesperson Arun Jaitley has chosen to become Ketan Parekh's lawyer in the Madhavpura Mercantile Cooperative Bank (MMCB) case, it has clearly blunted the party's pretensions about championing the cause of the small investors. The cruel irony is that most people who lost money in MMCB live in L.K. Advani's constituency - the man who as home minister pushed for a Rs 1,200 crore bailout for the bank at public cost. Interestingly, Ketan Parekh's payments to Bank of India (BOI) are also due soon. The bank had offered Parekh a generous four-year moratorium and simple payment terms, which were also cleared by the finance ministry headed by a BJP minister. Not only is BJP's vast bank of supporters in the investment community shocked at Jaitley's action, but also party leader Kirit Somiaya, who has positioned himself as an investor activist, is obviously shocked into silence.


Masti time

With large parts of the country battling sweltering heat and humidity, Amul’s barely advertised Spiced Buttermilk, priced at a low Rs five, has become a remarkable hit wherever it is available. The desi heat-beater is a light beverage that has smartly stuck to the traditional homemade flavour. Clearly, its tetra-pack convenience is affordable only because buttermilk is a by-product of the milk, butter, cheese and cream lines. At this price, there will be a big enough market of office-goers who would happily to pop a buttermilk brick in their bags to round off their dabba lunches.


-- Sucheta Dalal