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BSNL, MTNL ordered to stop use of Chinese 4G devices

The Narendra Modi government has made a big decision today, shocking the Chinese market by banning the use of their 4G equipment in the Indian telecom sector. In view of national security, the government has today directed the Department of Communications and government telecom companies BSNL and MTNL to stop the use of Chinese equipment for the implementation of 4G.

Since private companies use this telecom infrastructure of BSNL and MTNL too, China is expected to feel a harder pinch.

The government has ordered BSNL and MTNL to abolish all tenders in this regard and the process to withdraw new tenders will be started soon. The government will not give any new tenders for 4G to Chinese companies and fresh tenders will be withdrawn.

The government is preparing a set of instructions to block Chinese equipment by private companies as well. This is a big initiative to reduce Chinese goods’ use in India. As a bonus, the step adds to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ (self-reliant India) campaign launched recently.

On the night of 15-16 June, a violent skirmish took place between the Indian Army and Chinese soldiers in the Galwan Valley of Ladakh region, in which 20 brave soldiers of India were martyred. 43 Chinese soldiers are also reported to have been killed in this conflict, but China has not given any official statement on this.

BSNL was ready already

“This (India-China skirmish) is a strategic matter involving national security, and whenever operators would be asked by the government to shun China-origin ZTE equipment, BSNL will be the first to comply with orders,” a BSNL source said.

Shenzhen-based ZTE’s India business has already shrunk, with BSNL being the largest customer servicing in as many as six service areas, while private players have already reduced their dependence on the Chinese company that also maintains only two circles for Bharti Airtel and five circles for stressed Vodafone Idea.

Early this year, the Chinese company has laid off a substantial workforce to cut operational costs following rising financial pressures.

The market for telecom equipment is Rs 12,000 crore, in which the share of Chinese products is close to 25%. People in this field say that if Bharti companies leave China and import from other countries, the cost will increase by 15%.

Private sector eager to boycott China too

The Confederation of All India Traders (CAIT) has given a call to boycott Chinese products too. Earlier, the confederation had urged the government to take some immediate steps such as cancelling the contracts awarded to Chinese companies immediately and framing rules for withdrawal of investment by Chinese companies in Indian startups.

CAIT national president BC Bhartia and national general secretary Praveen Khandelwal said that in view of the recent developments and China’s consistent attitude towards India, Indian traders have resolved to teach China a big lesson by reducing Chinese imports. He said that even though the traders’ trade is being imported from China, nothing will be ahead of their national interest and they have decided to stand in solidarity with the movement.

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AGR: Socialist SC wants PSUs to be treated with kid gloves

The Supreme Court today, taking a socialist stand, expressed concerns over the government move to slap spectrum dues worth over Rs 4 lakh crore from PSUs as adjusted gross revenue (AGR)-based dues, but saw no problem in applying the same rule to the private sector telecom companies. It doubted the government’s plans for recovery of Rs 1.69 lakh crore spread across 20 years from the private telcos.

The Justice Arun Mishra-led three-judge bench asked the government to clarify in three days why it had raised demands of over Rs 4 lakh crore towards spectrum licence and user charges from PSUs. The court suggested this amount was introduced as an afterthought after the court ruling against other telcos such as Vodafone-Idea and Bharti Airtel.

The court asked the telecom companies to file affidavits on the instalments against their dues — and the securities they would offer to guarantee such payments over time — by 18 June when the court would reconvene to examine the issue again.

These private companies are Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Tata Teleservices and Hughes Communications. Out of these, Vodafone-Idea has said it would be unable to pay its dues because of its precarious financial state. Senior advocates Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Mukul Rohatgi, Arvind Datar and Kapil Sibal respectively represented Bharti Airtel, Vodafone Idea, Tata Tele and Hughes Communications.

Getting the AGR news from the Supreme Court, the Bharti Airtel stock at the BSE traded 2.6% lower at Rs 552.40 while Vodafone Idea plunged 13.2% to Rs 9.22 in the evening.

Justice Mishra said the government move to slap similar AGR dues for recovery from PSUs was “misuse” of its earlier ruling against the private telcos. He warned of action against the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) officials responsible for the move while seeking clarity on the move from Solicitor General Tushar Mehta who appeared for the government.

Justice Mishra said, “We will request you to withdraw the demand on PSUs otherwise we will take strict action. Outright misuse of our verdict. You are making a demand of Rs 4 lakh crore! This is wholly and totally impermissible. Every day I think about how our judgement has been used and misused.”

Telecom operators’ AGR dues

The solicitor general said that a one-time recovery from telcos would hit operations in the sector and send some into liquidation. The bench was not impressed. Also comprising Justices MR Shah and S Abdul Nazeer, the bench appeared disinclined to the suggestion. “Who knows what will happen in 20 years?” Justice Mishra observed, pointing out that this litigation had begun in 1999 and was yet to draw to a close.

Senior counsel Rohatgi, representing Vodafone-Idea, said that spectrum was the best security for the operator. “Licenses and spectrum were auctioned. We purchased them for thousands of crores. The intrinsic value of the spectrum will be the best security,” he told the court.

The advocate added that the total demand of Rs 50,000 crore plus interest and penalty cannot be furnished in bank guarantees. “We do not have enough money to pay our employees and meet our expenses,” he submitted.

Justice Mishra couldn’t be moved. “Find out what security can be furnished, personal property of directors. Else we cannot consider giving time,” the judge said.

Cash strapped Vodafone-Idea has warned that it would be forced to shut shop in the absence of any relief on its AGR dues, an estimated Rs 58,254 crore. The company has so far paid up Rs 6,854 crore.

https://www.sirfnews.com/if-agr-ruling-kills-vodafone-idea-10000-jobs-will-be-lost/

Singhvi, representing Bharti Airtel, said his client had paid 100% of its dues as per their calculations and sought time to file affidavits. He said that the company would confirm the remaining dues with the government and clear it.

Bharti Airtel has so far paid Rs 18,000 crore of the Rs 43,980 crore that the DoT had demanded. Tata Teleservices has paid Rs 4,197 crore of the Rs 16,798 crore worth of arrears.

Justice Mishra wanted to know who would take care of the dues if one of the companies went bust. “What if one of the companies goes into liquidation. Who will pay then? Are the telcos willing to give personal guarantees by their directors?” he asked.

https://www.sirfnews.com/agr-payments-from-telcos-enrich-govt-by-rs-8000-crore/

Court sympathises with PSUs

The judge questioned Solicitor General Mehta why the government made no demand against PSUs for 30 years. He remarked that the government fined the public sector companies “to make it easy for the private companies not to pay”.

The DoT has demanded Rs 1.72 lakh crore from GAIL India, Rs 48,489.26 crore from Oil India, Rs 22,062.65 crore from Powergrid Corporation of India, Rs 15,019.97 crore from Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers and Chemicals and Rs 5,481.52 crore from the DMRC.

“Who authorised these demands to be raised against PSUs? PSUs should not be paying AGR dues, Such demands on PSUs are wholly impermissible” said Mishra. He asked if the solicitor general had advised the government to withdraw demands against PSUs yet.

Mehta defended the government, saying that the government was raising the AGR due bills as per the agreement with the PSUs. He added that PSUs had been a different set that discharged government functions and that they were different from their private counterparts.

“Kindly consider giving PSUs a different treatment from that of the telcos although they hold spectrum,” said Mehta.

The bench asked the solicitor general to file an affidavit on why the PSUs were charged and did not accept the SG’s request for a clarification. “We want them to file an affidavit. How could this be done by them? We will punish them,” said Justice Mishra.

Mehta said he would file an affidavit on why the government had raised dues against the PSUs.

In the previous hearing on 17 March, the apex court had scrapped self-assessment of AGR dues by telcos. But relieving the likes of Vodafone Idea, Bharti Airtel and Tata Teleservices, it had agreed to consider the government’s plea to allow carriers to stagger the payment of dues over a maximum 20 years.

In its application filed in the top court, the government has cited the risk of “adverse impact” on the economy, jobs and millions of consumers from the possible collapse of any of the telecom companies. It urged the court to accept its formula to receive the AGR dues over a period of up to 20 years.

The government formula for AGR recovery includes freezing interest and penalty components as of 24 October 2019 when the Supreme Court had pronounced the order expanding the scope of the AGR.

The AGR dispute: Editorial view

While worldwide, AGR is defined as the difference between a taxpayer’s total gross income and specific deductions, in India, companies challenged the government definition of what constituted their gross income. According to the DoT, the AGR must include all revenues (before discounts) from both telecom and non-telecom services. But the companies maintain that AGR should comprise the revenue accrued only from the core services and not dividend, interest income or profit on the sale of any investment or fixed assets.

By the time the government’s view prevailed, the AGR dues of companies had accumulated to big amounts. While the Narendra Modi government and advocates of private telecom companies have explained the impact of this repayment on the economy, there is no nationwide debate yet on why the PSUs should be exempted from this rule. Does being late in asking for the payment from GAIL India, Oil India, Powergrid Corporation of India, Gujarat Narmada Valley Fertilizers and Chemicals and DMRC change the definition of AGR?

Of course, a PSU is sustained largely on public money, which may make them deserve a kinder treatment by the state. But given that the Indian political executive barely recognises that business is no business of the state and pours in citizens’ money to pull out PSUs when they are in the rut, why should these government companies get an additional concession in tax recoveries? After all, their payments ease off the tax burden on the citizens of India.

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Abu Dhabi authority helps Reliance Jio raise Rs 1 lakh crore

One of the biggest sovereign wealth funds of the world, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA) will invest Rs 5,683.5 crore in Jio Platforms. ADIA thus joins a posse of A-list global tech investors that have spent millions of dollars on this unit of Reliance Industries, as it is believed to have the potential to dominate India’s booming digital economy.

Jio is giving, in exchange, a 1.16% stake to the globally-diversified investment institution of Abu Dhabi in an unprecedented eighth investment in Jio Platforms in less than seven weeks. It marks the largest continuous fundraising action by a company anywhere in the world.

Oil-to-retail-to-telecom conglomerate RIL has now sold more than 21% stake in Jio Platforms through a series of fundraisers. It has thus raised as much as Rs 97,885.65 crore or $ 12.96 billion.

Chairman and Managing Director of Reliance Industries Mukesh Ambani said, “I am delighted that ADIA, with its track record of more than four decades of successful long-term value investing across the world, is partnering with Jio Platforms in its mission to take India to digital leadership and generate inclusive growth opportunities. This investment is a strong endorsement of our strategy and India’s potential.”

“Our investment in Jio is a further demonstration of ADIA’s ability to draw on deep regional and sector expertise to invest globally in market leading companies and alongside proven partners,” Executive Director of the Private Equities Department at ADIA Hamad Shahwan Aldhaheri said.

The deals concluded amid a global lockdown is being seen as a testament to India’s huge digital potential and a strong endorsement of Jio’s formidable strategy, tech capabilities, disruptive business model and secular long-term growth potential.

The investment from Abu Dhabi at an equity valuation of Rs 4.91 lakh crore and enterprise valuation of Rs 5.16 lakh crore follows its counterpart Mubadala Investment Company’s buy out of 1.85% in Jio Platforms for Rs 9,093.6 crore and another investment by private equity giant Silver Lake and co-investors.

A 9.99% stake sale to Facebook Inc for Rs 43,574 crore on 22 April and investments by General Atlantic, Silver Lake (twice), Vista Equity Partners, KKR and Mubadala led the series of investments in Jio, which runs movie, news and music apps as well as the telecom company Jio Infocomm.

Jio Platforms, which boasts of a next-generation technology platform that provided high-quality and affordable digital services across India, has more than 388 million subscribers. powered by leading technologies spanning broadband connectivity, smart devices, cloud and edge computing, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, Internet of Things, augmented and mixed reality and blockchain, it has made significant investments across its digital ecosystem.

Estimated to have assets of nearly $700 billion, ADIA has invested in 18 companies, say Crunchbase data. The Abu Dhabi authority has been spending on Indian equities and also anchoring investment in several IPOs and fixed income. Of late, it has widened its interest to assets such as infrastructure, real estate and private equities.

In April 2019, ADIA and India’s National Investment and Infrastructure Fund (NIIF) purchased a 49% stake in the airport unit of Indian conglomerate GVK Power & Infrastructure and invested another $ 495 million in renewable energy firm Greenko Energy Holdings, which runs wind, solar and hydro projects, in 2019. ADIA was also a leading investor in Bandhan Bank’s IPO.

The Abu Dhabi authority has been investing funds on behalf of the UAE government since 1976 for primarily long-term value creation. It manages a global investment portfolio that is diversified across more than two dozen asset classes and sub-categories, according to its website.

Morgan Stanley acted as financial advisor to Reliance Industries and AZB & Partners, and Davis Polk & Wardwell acted as legal counsel.

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Business

Cardless cash withdrawal from ATM to prevent COVID contraction from fomites

Given the risk of contracting coronavirus via fomites — any inanimate object that, when contaminated with or exposed to infectious agents, can transfer disease to a new host — banks in India have begun offering customers the option of withdrawing cash without the need to touch the keypad of an ATM and use one’s card.

As not all business outlets accept money transfers using digital payments services, the banks are now letting you withdraw money from certain bank ATMs without having to use the debit or credit cards. Customers are required to download the respective bank’s mobile application — in order to avail the cardless cash withdrawal facility.

A daily transaction limit ranging from Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000, depending upon the bank, applies to this facility that is available only at a few bank ATMs at the moment.

Also read: SBI complains to CBI after 4 years a loan defaulter fled without paying up Rs 411 crore

In order to avail the cardless cash withdrawal facility, download your bank’s mobile app and follow the procedure below to withdraw cash from an ATM without using your card:

State Bank of India (SBI)

Step 1: Download the SBI internet banking app YONO and click on ‘Yono Cash
Step 2: Select the account number and enter the amount that needs to be withdrawn
Step 3: An SMS will be received with YONO cash transaction number and ‘YONO cash PIN’.
Step 4: Visit the SBI ATM and select ‘YONO Cash’ on the ATM screen.
Step 5: Enter the YONO cash transaction number, enter the amount that needs to be withdrawn
Step 6: Enter YONO cash PIN and validate on YONO server. Complete authentication and collect cash from the ATM
Note: that the cash withdrawal has to be completed within 30 minutes of generating the transaction number and raising withdrawal request.

Also read: WeTransfer must be blocked, govt tells ISPs

ICICI Bank

Step 1: Download ICICI bank’s iMobile app, go to services and click on ‘cardless cash withdrawal’ option
Step 2: Enter amount, 4-digit temporary PIN and select account number from which the amount is to be debited
Step 3: Confirm the details and click on submit. A message will be received with a unique 6-digit code on registered mobile number. This code will be valid for 6 hours
Step 4: Visit a specified ICICI bank ATM and enter the registered mobile number, temporary 4-digit code, 6-digit code and withdrawal amount
Step 5: Cash will be dispensed on successful authentication

Axis Bank ATM

In order to make a cardless cash withdrawal from Axis Bank ATM, you need to initiate the Instant Money Transfer (IMT) service. At the bank’s ATM, you have to select the IMT option and then ‘withdraw IMT’. You need to enter the details such as the mobile number on which you have received the IMT details, the sender’s code, the SMS Code and the IMT amount. After that cash will be dispensed from the ATM.

Bank of Baroda

If you have an account in Bank of Baroda, you can get cash from any BOB ATM without the ATM card. Just open bank of Baroda mobile banking app (BOB MConnect plus) and select the option “Cash on mobile”. Enter the amount (up to Rs 5,000 and remarks and then enter the MPin. You will get 6 digit code on the mobile screen. This code will be valid for 15 minutes. Go to any BOB ATM and select option “Cash on mobile”. Enter OTP shown in the app and enter the withdrawal amount and you will get the cash.

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WeTransfer must be blocked, govt tells ISPs

India has ordered its internet service providers (ISPs) to block file-sharing website WeTransfer, notwithstanding the fact that hundreds of millions of people are working from home because of a nationwide lockdown to stop the novel coronavirus. The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has yet to issue a statement on the affair.

The union government, while opening up the economy in phases, is clearly wary of several tech companies. This can surely be said about its approach to firms based in China, which have issues with data security. Earlier, the Ministry of Home Affairs had urged the people to get rid of video conferencing application Zoom. Reportedly under pressure, the Chinese company switched to US-based ORACLE server, said a tech partner of Sirf News. But WeTransfer is not a Chinese company.

Founded in 2009 in the Netherlands, WeTransfer allows users to upload and share files of up to 2GB each for free at one time. Paying users can share files of up to 20 GB per transfer.

The 18 May order against WeTransfer from the DoT, which Reuters reviewed, does not specify a reason for blocking the website. It just invokes a clause from conditions laid out for granting licences to ISPs. The clause directs all licence holders to block websites in the “interest of national security or public interest”.

Why WeTransfer got the axe

While the DoT has not issued a statement in this regard, a Lok Sabha session of 2019 gives an indication of the possible reason(s). The Ministry of Information & Technology had then showed that there had been a 442% rise in the number of URLs blocked in India. These URLs have either been found malware or encouraging pornography of any kind or a threat to national security. The ban applies to the whole website.

Surprised by the government move, WeTransfer wrote in its company blog: “At this moment in time, WeTransfer seems to be blocked and unavailable in India.” It said, “We are working hard to understand the reasoning behind this block, as well as how to get it reverted as soon as possible.”

In one of the Lok Sabha session of 2019, the Ministry of Information and Technology showed that there had been a 442% rise in the number of URLs blocked in India. These URLs have either been found malware, or encouraging pornography of any kind or a threat to national security. The ban applies to the entire website. 

Competitors of WeTransfer

While personal users in India are more familiar with Google Drive and Dropbox was a huge hit about a decade ago, WeTransfer is a favourite of the corporate sector — especially companies that deal with a lot of videos and high-resolution images.

Smash and Hightail are two other competitors of WeTransfer. Unlike an email with attachments, WeTransfer, Smash and Google Drive allow the transfer of and/or access to heavy files by a mere mention by the addresser of the email addresses of the intended recipients while also limiting the actions the receiver can perform on the files. Hightail is for transferring smaller files.

Reliance Jio, Vodafone Idea and Hathway have blocked WeTransfer for their subscribers. The website is still accessible to Airtel users.

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Ratan Tata: Personal letters to Pallonji Mistry give legal right

A fresh twist has emerged in the tussle between Tata Group chairman emeritus Ratan Tata and the group’s ousted chairman Cyrus Mistry. Tata discarded claims that his “personal letters of appreciation” to Cyrus Mistry’s father Pallonji Mistry can be treated as proof of a quasi-partnership or any vested legal right in Tata Sons.

The attempt by Cyrus Mistry, ousted as Tata Sons chairman in October 2016, to seek “proportionate representation” on the Tata Sons board in the apex court, on basis of these letters, is an ‘afterthought since he had not done so in the original appeal filed in the National Company Law Tribunal (NCLT) in 2016’, a Tata confidant said.

On Friday, the Supreme Court had agreed to hear cross-appeal filed by Cyrus Mistry seeking representation on the board of Tata Sons over the judgment of the National Company Law Appellate Tribunal (NCLAT) along with the plea filed by Tata Sons challenging the December 2019 ruling of the tribunal in the top court.

Also read: E-commerce cos waiting for signals from states to resume services

“These letters cannot be called ‘commitment’ or ‘agreement’ after 15 years,” said the person close to Tata. Cyrus Mistry had filed an application to place three letters written by Ratan Tata to Pallonji Mistry, who had served on the board of Tata Sons between 1980 and 2004, on the record in support of his claims.

The first letter was an informal one written in 1991, soon after Ratan Tata took over as chairman of Tata Sons. The second was written in May 2004 when Tata asked Mistry to continue as director of Tata Sons to ensure continuity in the midst of the ongoing Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) share sale. The third was an informal one in January 2005 that Tata wrote to thank the elder Mistry after he stepped down as director for his “support and confidence.”

Also read: Tata Group to buy Air India? Vistara studying proposal

Soon after taking charge as chairman of Tata Sons, Ratan Tata wrote an informal letter to Pallonji Mistry in 1991. In May 2014, the second letter was written when Tata asked Mistry to continue as director of Tata Sons to ensure continuity amid the ongoing Tata Consultancy Services (TCS) share sale. Tata wrote the third informal letter in January 2005 that to thank the elder Mistry after he stepped down as director for his “support and confidence.”

Media quoted the person close to Tata as saying, “If this relief were to be granted to the Mistry family, the Supreme Court will have to rewrite the company’s Articles of Association.”

To recap, the Tata Group and the Mistry camp had challenged the December ruling of the NCLAT in the top court. In January, the court had stayed the NCLAT order reinstating Cyrus Mistry as executive chairman of Tata Sons and restoring his directorships in the holding company as well as three group companies.

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SpiceJet operates cargo flights to Sudan, South Korea

Amid the coronavirus-induced lockdown, SpiceJet said it had started operating cargo flights to Sudan and South Korea.

The airline started operating flights to both the countries last week.

In a press release, SpiceJet said its maiden flights to the two countries carried 16 tonnes of cargo each.

Cargo flights have been operating as usual in India amid the lockdown.

Domestic passenger flights resumed in India on 26 May after a two-month gap. Scheduled international passenger flights continue to remain suspended in the country.

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Airfares capped for an unprecedented three months

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri said today the government would fix airfares with both an upper and lower limit for all domestic flights for three months after the air services resume on 25 May, following a nearly two-month-long nationwide lockdown. The government had grounded the entire airline fleet for this duration.

The government has introduced the upper limit in airfares to prevent any sharp upward spike in prices due to pent up demand. The lower limit of airfares, on the other hand, will help ensure the airlines do not turn unviable businesses, the civil aviation minister said on 21 May.

If the intrinsic demand is muted, then the minimum fare will help in general and maximum fare will not be that relevant. However when demand is muted and the minimum fare is higher than what it would otherwise have been, the weakest or least attractive player suffers the most as they cannot use pricing as a tool to steal market share

Union Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri

This is the first time that the Indian government has capped airfares for such a long duration. The government would otherwise restrict such measures to no more than a few days during calamities like flood, a source said. “The government has not conveyed this decision to us yet,” he said.

In his second press conference since yesterday, Puri said, announcing the resumption of domestic flight services from next week, flight operations between all cities would resume the next week. Every flight will carry only one-third its capacity approved during the summer schedule of 2020. “The number of flights will gradually be increased (after 24 August),” Puri said.

The government has created seven major airfare sections or zones, based on the distance and time taken to cover the distance.

The government has classified flights between cities as under:

  1. Flight duration under 40 min: Section 1
  2. Flight duration under 40-60 min: Section 2
  3. Flight duration 60-90 min: Section 3
  4. Cities 90-120 min apart: Section 4
  5. Cities 120-150 min apart: Section 5
  6. Destinations between 150 min and 180 min: Section 6
  7. Destinations between 180 min and 210 min: Section 7

Only one-third of the total flights approved during the summer schedule will fly the skies during the upcoming period.

Puri said the government would regulate airfares for a period of three months. “With the capacity falling from 100% to 30%, fares could have sky rocketed. Once we exit the three month period (on 25 August), we can have a market based system or a pre-covid kind of arrangement,” Puri added.

Examples of airfares

Explaining the mechanism of a lower and upper airfares bracket on various routes, Puri said that the move would imply that the lowest fare between Delhi and Mumbai, the busiest route in the country, will be capped at Rs 3,500 and Rs 10,000 at the higher end.

Airlines will have to keep 40% of the total seats available at less than the median price, aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said.

Though the number of airlines and air routes increase with the resumption of flight operations, after an initial period of high demand, an elongated period of slump will follow due to COVID-19-related implications, two senior airline officials said.

“If the intrinsic demand is muted, then the minimum fare will help in general and maximum fare will not be that relevant. However when demand is muted and the minimum fare is higher than what it would otherwise have been, the weakest or least attractive player suffers the most as they cannot use pricing as a tool to steal market share,” said a senior official at a no-frill carrier.

“Then the demand goes to the stronger players offering that fare, and the least attractive players gets the leftovers and suffers. If demand is high, then the minimum fare does not matter much. But setting a cap will create shortages like we see for trains,” the official added.

Challenges before the civil aviation sector

Creating enough demand for flights will be a challenge, with COVID-19 outbreak muting travel demand. “Even if we operate these flights, we need to make sure there is enough demand, as we can’t operate empty planes,” said another senior airline official.

Spokespersons of airlines like IndiGio, SpiceJet, Vistara, GoAir, AirAsia India and Air India didn’t comment on the government’s decision to cap fares.

“Technically, the government does not regulate fares. Fares were deregulated under the Aircraft Act in the 90s. However, the Ministry of Civil Aviation, through DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation), does monitor pricing levels and, at times, has intervened when fares have spiked very high,” said Petrushka Dasgupta, Partner, IndusLaw.

“However, as a part of their guidelines for restart of Domestic Operations from 25th March onwards, they have indicated that they will set ‘floor and ceiling’ levels for fares for the initial start up phase, so that airlines don’t over price on certain routes or engage in predatory pricing,” Dasgupta added.

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E-commerce cos waiting for signals from states to resume services

E-commerce companies are gradually resuming all their services across the country today under the fourth phase of the nationwide lockdown. The Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) guidelines issued yesterday allow greater relaxations to this market segment, even as individual states’ decisions may vary on the matter.

According to the latest Union Home Ministry’s order, “all other activities will be permitted, except those which are specifically prohibited” under the fourth phase of the lockdown that ends on 31 May. Only essential activities will be allowed in containment zones though.

The MHA order says states and union territories may prohibit certain other activities in various zones or impose such restrictions as deemed necessary — based on their assessment of the situation.

An industry executive said on the condition of anonymity that e-commerce companies were waiting for more clarity from states before taking a final call on the resumption of services in various locations.

Senior vice president of e-commerce enabler Paytm Mall Srinivas Mothey said the move would help the company deliver to most of the metro cities which were in the red zones. “We thank the government for taking the decision for allowing the delivery of non-essentials in red zones across the country. This move will help us deliver to most of the metro cities which presently fall in the red zones,” he said, adding that the company has received a sizeable number of consumer electronics wishlist orders from metro cities. People have been waiting to buy laptops, mobile phones, as well as other daily use items for the last several weeks now. The government’s decision will also help in opening up supplies of consumer electronics from warehouses which are in the red zones.”

Snapdeal spokesman said the MHA guidelines paved the way for a broader resumption of economic activities across most parts of India. “E-commerce has played a crucial role in the last two months by delivering a range of much-needed goods to consumers – within the safety of their homes. Our sellers and delivery partners have worked extensively to meet these requirements while exercising strict safety measures and we applaud their commitment in rising to the occasion,” the spokesperson said.

Other sources in the e-commerce segment said they were “ready and equipped” to resume customer services across India even in red and orange zones. They said that the relaxation would enable lakhs of medium and small online sellers to start rebuilding their businesses.

In the first two phases of the lockdown (that started from March 25), e-commerce companies were permitted to sell only essential items like grocery, healthcare, and pharmaceutical products.

In the third phase (from 4 May), the government allowed these platforms to sell all items in orange and green zones. Only essential items were allowed to be shipped to red zones.

The guidelines forced large e-commerce companies to focus on delivering non-essentials only in smaller cities, despite delivery norms being eased during Lockdown 3.0. This was because major cities continued to be in the red zones. Metros and Tier 1 cities contribute nearly 70% of total e-commerce orders.

Sales of non-essential items on e-commerce platforms in the first week of May were lower than the corresponding figures last year due to the lockdown. However, orders were scaling fast as people bought apparel, smartphones, and grooming products among other items.

Manpower availability is an issue that still bogs down the industry.

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ePaisa appoints Pravinkumar Bhandari as new CEO

Leading Point of Sale, ePaisa has recently announced the appointment of Pravinkumar Bhandari as its new Chief Executive Officer.

Before this successful promotion, Pravinkumar has held the position of Chief Business Officer (CBO) at ePaisa since June 2019. As the CBO his role was to entail tasks and processes towards business development by implementing growth opportunities within and outside the organizations.

In his new role, Pravin will be responsible for the entire execution of the business and finances including sales and marketing. One of his prime focus would be to introduce new digital features and business solutions in the coming days.

Also read: ePaisa launches measures to help small business, kirana stores

ePaisa COO, Shahin Kunnath said that “Pravin comes with a vast 20+ years of experience and this would further strengthen the leadership of the company. This is good news and the entire team is looking forward”.

Prior to ePaisa, Pravin was handling Vtalkers Pte Ltd as the Chief Technology & Operating Officer where he re-branded Vtalkers, introducing new products and positioning as MVNO moves, from USD 2.1 million to USD5.3 million company in 14 months.

Commenting on his promotion Pravin said that, “With more power comes great responsibility. Right now, my priority would be to let ePaisa emerge from this pandemic time and support the company’s next phase of growth. We are also working on a few more business solutions for our merchants which would be executed post lockdown”.

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The company who has converted many offline businesses into online is currently catering to merchants and SME’s from different sectors especially the grocery and Kirana shops across the country.

Earlier, the ePaisa point of sale ecosystem has taken measures to help small businesses, retailer and Kirana stores that have been working heroically amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The ePaisa POS solution caters to merchant base from all across the country with a focus to convert the offline business into online. At this crucial phase, ePaisa has taken measures to help run their business smoothly.

The merchants are approached on a frequent basis with Informative messages, emails, and calls which help them to be aware of what benefits they can avail from private and government sectors.