Business Today

From the Editor: March 13, 2013

Chaitanya Kalbag | Print Edition: March 17, 2013

We need to place the AgustaWestland helicopter "kerfuffle" - as a former defence minister put it - in context. The 12 AW101s were headed for the Indian Air Force's Communication Squadron, which flies VVIPs around, to replace its ageing Mi-8 fleet. The new helicopters are strictly not combat craft - they are personnel carriers and can also be used for surveillance or search and rescue operations. And they are expensive. The deal was worth about three-quarters of a billion dollars. We do want our leaders to fly in style, even within our borders - but who qualifies for the "VVIP" tag? Quite a list, as it happens, including unelected people who occasionally need to attend a wedding in some boondocks locale with the highest level of security. It should not really shock us. After all Rolls-Royce is about to roll out a line of customized chariots that have an Indian touch - and the former royal family of Rajkot has just brought back to Indian shores a 1934 Phantom II called the Star of India. Our maharajas need to scale up to the 21st century. So what is the context for the VVIP helicopters? Finmeccanica, the parent of AgustaWestland, has a large number of very, very expensive helicopter deals waiting to be consummated; every "defence deal" seems to be spiced with some corruption or the other; and for a thorough look at this mess read story 'Deadly downdraft',  where Shiv Aroor spells it all out, helped by a scathing analysis by Maj Gen Mrinal Suman, a defence procurement expert. The context also is that India is the world's biggest arms importer because we cannot get our act together on equipping our military. Our 2012/13 defence budget is close to $40 billion, which can only mean lots of pigs at the trough.

Our imperial canvas also portrays India-rubber men like Subrata Roy, the high priest of a cult that has hundreds of thousands of ordinary citizens drinking the Kool-Aid of financial nirvana while regulators and judges try to wrestle him to the ground. You have got to read Suveen Sinha's powerful portrait of Roy and the Sahara Parivar's "collective materialism" to understand the story somewhat. Somewhat, because the maze of deposit-taking schemes with names like Sahara.M.Benefit, Sahara.U.Golden and Sahara.E.Shine - and the truckloads of paper that Roy despatched to the Securities and Exchange Board of India when the regulator was ordered by the Supreme Court to verify Sahara documents preparatory to refunding `24,000 crore with interest to depositors - beggar the imagination. On February 13, after a direct prod from the Supreme Court, SEBI moved to attach the assets of two of Roy's main companies. It also froze the bank accounts and properties of Roy and three other directors of the companies. But don't for a moment think that this is the end of the saga. Mahesh Nayak tries to untangle some of the maddening mystery.

When you consider the fact that our country has hundreds of millions of inventive and imaginative people, many of whom are looking for permanent homes and their slice of the "Indian dream", you have got to hand it to developers, who try to come up with one scheme after another for housing projects - witness the number of text messages that hit your phone every day. But that does not mean things are all right. There is bad news all round. The number of new projects is falling, and the number of buyers is dwindling. People who paid huge sums of money are waiting helplessly to take possession. Suman Layak played the lead role in slicing through the superlatives to get to the disturbing facts, helped by Shweta Punj and G. Seetharaman. Alongside, Sarika Malhotra examines redevelopment schemes in Mumbai that are pulling in big bucks, and Manu Kaushik tracks the new bonanza for developers in retirement homes. The very comprehensive cover story package starts and you will benefit from our reportage and analysis.

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