The Maharashtra Governor S.M. Krishna has done well in returning the Dance Bar ordinance and asking that a proper bill be introduced in the next session of the legislative assembly. It may well be that the Bill will be passed swiftly and without debate, but at least the law-making process will not be vitiated and bypassed by faking an emergency. Incidentally, the Governor has good reason to worry about the state getting him to promulgate hastily drafted ordinances. Just a few weeks ago, the Governor signed an ordinance amending section 10B of the Bombay Stamp Act. This, among other things, decreed that stock exchanges would have to collect stamp duty on behalf of traders, by deducting it directly from brokers’ accounts. The high-handed promulgation was arrogating to Maharashtra the right to collect stamp duty from investors in other states, only because they were trading through electronic, national exchanges, which were headquartered here. The Governor was persuaded to ink the Ordinance, although extensive software changes required for electronic collection of stamp duty were not in place and the bourses had, in fact, expressed their inability to collect the duty. The Ordinance has led to angry complaints from neighbouring States on behalf of their investors. Clearly, this was another instance where there was no reason whatsoever to short-circuit the process of amending important legislation that has major revenue implications for ordinary citizens.
Tourism & Goa
Aviation Minister Praful Patel recently spoke about the immense potential of India’s airline industry as a large number of Indians begin to afford air travel. But airport infrastructure is in a mess and the privatisation of the Delhi and Mumbai airports has hit an air pocket. Apart from the metros, one of the biggest magnets for Indian and international tourists is beautiful Goa. Did you know that Goa does not even have a civilian airport (despite landing so many international charters and domestic flights)? The Navy runs the airport and places a number of restrictions on its use. In fact, the Navy uses the airport to train pilots to fly the Sea Harriers and it will soon be training pilots for the MIG-29K’s acquired along with a Russian aircraft carrier. The obvious question is, shouldn’t the Goa airport be freed for civilians while Navy training is shifted to the mammoth Project Seabird at nearby Karwar? Instead of expanding the operations of Goa’s Dabolim airport and providing it with world-class airport infrastructure, there is a plan to build an expensive second airport at Mopa, which is capable of landing the A380. This airport, if ever it materialises, will be costlier, closer to Maharashtra and waste well-located existing airport infrastructure; also, the South Goa hotel industry that has developed around it will lose some shine. On the other hand, thanks to a greenfield airport at Mopa politicians can profit hugely from land deals and granting of clearances to a whole new set of resorts that would develop around the new airport and in the Sindhudurg region of Maharshtra.
Mere paas ma hai?
Kokilaben Ambani has often been seen but never heard. The 10-month battle thrust her in the limelight, because of the public averment of her sons that she would decide how to split the business empire between them both. While the battle raged, Anil, Mukesh, their wives and aides took great pains not to antagonise her. And fittingly, it was she who announced the outline of the split. But what happens next? When Dhirubhai Ambani was alive, the family lived in an imposing apartment building in South Bombay called Sea Wind. But in the last two years, as the dispute between the brothers and their wives turned more acrimonious, both made plans to move out. Mukesh is already constructing a fabulously expensive building for himself at Tony Malabar Hill. While Anil, we learn, is in the process of renovating a fantastic bungalow that has always housed the chairman of BSES (now Reliance Energy) at Bandra. This will take him closer to his film industry friends. Kokilaben will actually have to choose to live with either of her sons, or as sources think is more likely, may prefer to stay alone at Sea Wind with the memories of her husband and her religious activities.
Knowledgeable sources in the gold trade circuit are all agog these days about a steady supply of gold and silver, which they believe is coming from government mints at various locations. These sources say that the Reserve Bank has opened some of its gold lockers, including Mumbai and Kolkata (FortWilliams) for the first time in over 50 years. In some cases, they even had trouble finding the keys. Some of this gold has apparently been released to the jewellery trade (my source has receipts) fuelling further desperation to find out the central bank’s plans. After all gold is a hotly traded international commodity and India is an important player mainly because of its insatiable appetite for the yellow metal.