Monday, May 24, 2010

Govt may defer Air India pay cuts till after Commonwealth Games

The government is thinking of deferring any decision on wage cuts in Air India until after the Commonwealth Games.

In its attempt to streamline the ailing carrier’s finances, it had suggested steep wage cuts for senior employees last year.

But this resulted in pilots striking work, crippling operations and prompting the Prime Minister to step in.

Now, despite the airline management suggesting many stiff cost savings measures, there is a general consensus that any “turbulent” decisions such as wage cuts be deferred until after the Commonwealth Games in October.

“It is true that AI’s financial situation is precarious and we are implementing many tough measures to get the balance sheet back to black. But any turbulent decisions such as wage cuts will now be deferred until after the Games. This is the general thinking now,” highly placed official sources said.

Already, some AI employee unions have threatened to strike over alleged delayed payment of May salaries amid concerns over the “image” of the carrier. Though passenger load factors have been improving, officials in the Ministry of Civil Aviation feel the airline’s imagehas not improved.

Sources pointed out that maximum savings from any wage cuts at various percentages would work out to be “just about Rs 600 crore. This is not significant enough to take up such a contentious issue at this stage. It is better to defer this matter.”

In the earlier attempt, the airline’s management had proposed steep reduction in performance linked incentives (PLIs) of employees - PLI payout accounts for almost half of the airline’s total salary bill of Rs 3,100 crore per annum.

The government has deferred deliberations on wage cuts after criticism by the parliamentary committee on public sector enterprises (Copu) which tabled its report in Parliament recently.

Copu had said manpower-related costs accounted for only 16.2% of AI’s cost structure.

“More than extra emphasis has been given to rationalising manpower cost. The structure shows that around 34% of cost is from fuel, and manpower cost has, in fact, gone down over the previous year to 16.2%. So, by rationalising on manpower cost, how much can you optimise when in an operational company like Nacil, manpower is a crucial element in keeping your planes flying?”

Players warm up in sweltering heat

The Asian Junior Tennis Championships kicked off in the Capital on Monday, and though the day's matches were played out in front of largely empty stands, from an organisational perspective, it was somewhat better than the last Commonwealth Games test event.

By all accounts, it was easier to get around the Delhi Lawn Tennis Association's RK Khanna Stadium. There was the usual sight of dust covering every square inch of space, but that is something expected at a venue that is still far from finished.

The police were better behaved, although they didn't believe that the rules they enforced, applied to them as well. On a sweltering day, spectators were not allowed to take in bottled drinks, but at least one policeman made himself comfortable, lighting a cigarette next to Court No. 3 visitors' gallery. The venue is, like all public places, a non-smoking venue and cigarettes aren't allowed.

That aside, it was a packed day of tennis. The top four seeds among boys and girls received first round byes, making Lin Zhu, the fifth seeded Chinese girl, the top seed in action on Monday. Zhu, with an ITF junior ranking of 111, had no trouble dispatching Zainab Ali Sajjad, 6-2, 6-3.

The Chinese are looking to dominate the boys section as well, fielding the top three seeds, including last week's finalists, Chuhan Wang (1) and Bowen Ouyang.

Seeded players had little difficulty in the girls' section. Seventh seed Rishika Sunkara, India's top seed in the fray, barely broke a sweat in her 6-0, 6-0 win over Vasundhara Raju.

Tenth seed Kyra Shroff, who made it to the finals of the ITF junior tournament in Delhi last week, continued her good run with a win over Ravnoor Kaur.

Looking at how miserable those watching the games were in the heat, it was hard to imagine what the players went through. Ninth seed Rakshay Thakkar from Pune, was perhaps one of the luckier ones, with his match scheduled for late evening. He beat Rithvik Anand comfortably. When asked about the venue, Thakkar was positive, " The new surface is really good. It is slower than most Indian surfaces, which is good for us, because surfaces abroad are slow as well."

Security at CWG won’t be a worry

Athletes participating in this year’s Commonwealth Games here should not worry about security, said sports minister M S Gill on Monday, assuring that India will deliver an incident-free event.

“We have the Commonwealth Games in October and India is hosting an event of such a magnitude after a long time.

“Security at any crowded event like this is a matter of concern worldwide. No one wants to take any chance,” Gill said.

He was addressing the opening session of the seventh Asia/Oceanic Region Intergovernmental meeting on anti-doping in sports here.

“We are also looking into it closely. We are putting together every security mechanism to make sure we have a perfect Commonwealth Games to be remembered for generations to come,” the minister added.

Dope-free environment
The Commonwealth Games Games are scheduled October 3 to 14 in the Indian capital. Talking about doping, Gill said the menace is a world disease and needs to be eradicated as quickly as possible.

“This subject (doping) is of great importance to us. We put doping on top of our list. We have WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) accredited laboratory NADA (National Anti-Doping Agency) in the capital to create a clean and fair sporting environment in the country,” Gill said.

“We want to win medals at the international and national events with honour and pride and not by cheating. I want to reiterate Sports ministry is with the WADA, NADA and UNESCO in their fight against doping,” the minister said.

Paint your house, pay for it: MCD

If your house falls on any road that leads to a Commonwealth Games venue, the MCD wants your house repaired and painted. Here’s the catch: You get it repaired, you pay for it.

And just in case people don’t comply, the civic body is likely to make the renovations mandatory.

Residents of Defence Colony, Lajpat Nagar, East of Kailash, Bhogal, Karol Bagh, Chandni Chowk have already received such letters from the MCD.

“We had a meeting in April wherein the government asked us to motivate the residents to take up fa├žade improvement of their houses and buildings. In many cases, it was recommended that the whitewash of buildings also be carried out. I have informed all the deputy commissioners to hold meetings and encourage the residents,” said MCD commissioner K.S. Mehra. The MCD’s central zone, where most of the CWG venues are located held a meeting to this effect on May 8.

The residents are critical of the MCD’s move. “The MCD should first do the things it is supposed to do. The roads are in a bad shape, the footpaths are dug up and there is no system to dispose garbage. Why should we spend money to improve our houses?” said Vijay Arora, president, Lajpat Nagar RWA.

Considering that these are private buildings and the MCD cannot force the residents, in the CWG meeting it was suggested that such residents be given monetary benefits such as rebates in property tax on completion of the work.

However, the MCD has said it cannot shell out the money for this. “We are already short of money. How can we give rebates to residents?” said a senior MCD official.

To manage traffic, cops want courts, shops shut

The Commonwealth Games are likely to affect commercial and legal activities. To ease traffic movement and to manage traffic, Delhi government has ordered all major markets in Delhi to remain shut at least during the games’ opening and closing days.

The government also wrote to the Supreme Court and Delhi High Court registrar generals asking them to keep the courts shut during the games. This request was turned down. Now, the Delhi Police wants the lower courts to remain closed for three days from October 11.

“Through the chief secretary, we had appealed to the registrar generals of Supreme Court and High Court to announce Dusshera holidays of courts from October 4 instead of October 9. We wanted the courts to be closed during the games as High Court, Supreme Court and Patiala Court are near the games venue. The plea was turned down. The courts will stay shut from October 9 for Dusshera. Now we are asking the authorities to keep the lower courts shut for three days,” said Ajay Chadha, Special Commissioner, Delhi Traffic Police.

Rajeev Khoshma, former president of Delhi Bar Association, said: “They want the lower courts closed only for three days. I think the plea should be granted in national interest.”

Business activities, however, will suffer the most with most markets closed on opening and closing days of the games.

Major markets including Chandni Chowk, Dilli Haat, Janak Puri, Karol Bagh, Khan Market and shopping malls will stay shut on first and last day of the games. Praveen Khandelwal, general secretary, Confederation of All India Traders: “We will suffer losses of nearly Rs 500 crore.”

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