Racial profiling, terror threats, nervous and culturally ignorant foreign airline crew/air marshals could lead to some significant changes in airline choices. As one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, India is the cynosure of all aviation-related businesses. The number of Indians travelling abroad is growing at a hefty 20% per annum. Airlines around the world want a piece of this action as our growing middle class seeks to discover the world. However, the detention of 12 Indians, whose boisterous behaviour was considered alien and suspicious, is likely to trigger a change in airline choices. Check out the blogs and you find extreme reactions. European and American bloggers favoured racial profiling as a security measure while Asians and other ethnic groups have mixed feelings with many saying that our people must learn to maintain decorum on flights. But check closely and many Indians say they would feel more comfortable with an Indian carrier and crew; or an Asian airline which is unlikely to mistake noisy yakking and frequent visits to the toilet as terrorist behaviour. Airlines sense a business opportunity in the cultural comfort factor and it is only a matter of time before changed travel habits become more evident. Incidentally, India-based MNCs, who used the sachet route to reach rural markets, may also find an opportunity to sell use-and-throw packs of colour cosmetics at airport shops for women travellers since they are banned on flights.
The capital market regulator is also set for major change starting with a move to its spanking new corporate headquarters at Bandra. The Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) bid adieu to Pratip Kar, its longest serving Executive Director (ED) and welcomed Usha Narayan as its second woman ED. Narayan is a low-profile, no-nonsense person with long experience at Sebi and high integrity. Other vacancies may see outside appointments and some departments are in for a major revamp. Probably for the first time in the public sector, Sebi has HR experts to help with the selection process and has started a “mentoring” project to give young officials a sense of belonging. The regulator needs to focus some attention on its legal department in order to eliminate the growing clutter of meaningless cases that are winding their way through various civil and criminal proceedings.
As an independent regulator, Sebi was expected to reduce pressure on the legal system by swiftly resolving capital market-related disputes itself. Instead, the regulator is only adding to the courts’ burden. The Bombay High Court has already set up a special court to hear cases filed by Sebi, especially connected with collective investment schemes. But market intermediaries report scores of investigations that are expensively meandering without conclusion, when they ought to have been settled or compounded. Some of these are rendered meaningless over time because there is no likelihood of a prison sentence and the accused are willing to accept indictment and penalty. For instance, an insider trading case that has been decided in Sebi’s favour by the Securities Appellate Tribunal (SAT) has now been filed in a criminal court after five years. A securities company indicted for failure to print broker registration details on its contract notes and bills is not settled even though the company has shut down, the complainant has vanished, the sum involved is Rs 25,000 and the accused want to settle. Cleaning up this legal mess is especially urgent after SAT has begun to levy costs on Sebi for wrong indictments; it is only a matter of time before it imposes penalties as well. If the Sebi Act could be amended so swiftly to grant an extension for senior officials, there is no reason why statute should not be changed to allow settlement/compounding of irrelevant cases.
Last week, Voice, a Delhi-based NGO, held a workshop to discuss “Quality of Banking Services in India “ based on a nation-wide survey that looked at 19 banks. Although the survey was sponsored by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs, the RBI went out of its way to support the effort and signal its seriousness about improving banks’ service quality. For starters, it used its powers of persuasion to ensure that at least 150 bankers responsible for customer services attended the seminar and listened to consumer viewpoint, however unpalatable. Kaza Sudhakar, RBI’s Chief General Manager, was undoubtedly the star of the show. He not only ensured that banks were represented by senior officials, but after the first two sessions, he moved to the back of the hall to ensure that nobody attempted to slink away before the end of the day-long seminar. He made it clear that under the present dispensation at the RBI, there is genuine empathy for harried customers and a determination to address complaints.