airlines, food, traveling, Uncategorized

Passing the baton? Air India’s public image takes a nose-dive with its ban on non-veg in the economy class

Airlines have come up with innovative ways to cut costs. Delta Airlines purchased its own fuel processing refinery to cut corners in the long run.  In 1994, Southwest Airlines removed the company’s logo from rubbish bags, saving the carrier $300,000 a year in printing costs. How else would any carrier in such a competitive industry survive? Such parsimony has often paid off – lighter chairs, lesser in-flight magazines, female attendants because they are lighter (ingenious, GoAir) – companies have approached this issue with crazier ideas that we’d expect.

But Air India seems to have rubbed its passengers the wrong way in its efforts to stay afloat.

Ironically the decision comes at a time when the Supreme court has stayed the ban on Centre’s controversial cattle ban. You might think that a sinking ship will try to find safe harbour somewhere. At least that’s the predictable rationale. Not true for a government-owned neck deep in debt-quagmire airline called Air India. Amidst the uproar around beef ban and liquor ban, Air India has tightened the noose around its neck by what could be termed as poor decision-making skills. Or maybe their PR person is busy flying Vistara.

The decision to ban non-veg menu for the economy class seems straight out a government memo which has called for a look from a political/nationalistic narrative practised by majority. And people were quick to point out that this was a stupid way to deal with debt evidenced by the fact that chicken is cheaper than paneer. But really? Anyone flying Air India would ideally have the budget to afford BOTH chicken and paneer. But it all boils down to a liberal question of choice, which we have very high regards for, followed by little understanding. The decision has elicited strong criticisms from all corners. Air India had moved to an all-veg meal model on sub-90 minute flights last year. What’s worse, they also nicked tea and coffee from their lunch and dinner menu.

Air India has justified their decision claiming that most of the people did not specify their preferences at the time of booking; that the passenger ratio of vegetarians to non- vegetarians has tilted greatly in the favour of the former. These justifications, on the face of it, seem palatable. But denying the choice to individuals altogether seems to veer close to the situation on land in India. To top it off, the move is discriminatory to say the least considering how the airline will still be offering the exclusive non-veg menu to those flying business class.

Air India could have come up with a better way to stop seeing red- making food specifications mandatory, paving way for allocation of responsibility in event of negligence in terms of catering. But the only solution it advocates is an extreme method, and without providing a thorough exposition on how this method came to be chosen. Transparency is the key to any public decision. As for many who have chosen to get riled up against the decision- have you ever run a debt-laden national carrier? Air India may prove to be correct. Their total debt is estimated to be around 52000 crores. With this cost-cutting endeavour they are poised to save around 8 crores each year. That gives them the recovery window of about, say, around 6500 years (I haven’t considered the disinvestment that the government announced last month, so that may shake the numbers). The math doesn’t add up. But hey, that’s the case with most of the decisions of this government.

We won’t be around to see them recover; and at this rate, the government wont, either.

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Holy cows, politics, religion, Uncategorized

A tale of two identities: Whats your beef?

One reason why Modi-wave gripped India in 2014 was the idealist/economist lens with which he viewed the nation. He ‘seemingly’ rose above petty communal rhetoric that had been his cross since Gujarat, and spoke about development, growth and the rise of a super-power. We were under the impression that he wanted to establish an expansionist pro-capitalist identity of our nation on a scale unimaginable to us. He has been sloughing day in and out to retain that I presume, continuously on tour for bilateral talks, erecting a new identity abroad. But our own identity politics has taken a backseat, or rather is going back to crude basics. The secular nation that was promised to all and sundry, has turned into a hollow premise on which lies the now unsteady foundation of India.

The majoritarian govt that has been elected by such a massive popular vote has taken to blatantly infringing on rights of the citizens. The latest assault has been the restrictions imposed on sale of cattle for slaughter, sounded through an amendment issued under the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act. Cattle brought to the markets would have to be sold for agricultural purposes, a tab on which would be kept by the Animal Market Committee. The rules define ‘cattle’ to mean “cow, calf, bull, bullock, buffalo, heifer, steer and camel”.

While the subtleties of the ban are lost in the political humdrum, the move does seem to reek of majoritarian bliss. Well my mother advocates what our government has implemented; I am a non-vegetarian and she has never restricted consumption of meat in our Hindu household, despite being a vegetarian herself. Though we have our own holy cows. Her behaviour, could be diabolical or hypocritical to an extent. To put into perspective rhetoric of religious sentiments, would anyone eat pork in an Islamic nation, where its consumption is banned? Well, the only logical answer I could come up with was the fact that these nations are Islamic- they have a religion with which their nation’s identity is inextricably linked and therefore that religion may well dictate rule of the land. Do not confuse my acceptance with assent, but only an explanation. India however has no national religious identity. What we have is one religion which dominates in number. Hindu beliefs are not the beliefs of all those who live in the nation and cannot be enforced. Nehru writes in Discovery of India- “A Buddhist or a Jain in India is a hundred percent product of Indian thought and culture, yet neither is a Hindu by faith. It is, therefore, entirely misleading to refer to Indian culture as Hindu culture.” We must pay heed to these words.

One of my mother’s pet arguments (and of many others I’ve met) – if people have a right to decide what they eat, why would anyone deny someone who has an appetite for Tiger meat? Or why raise such a hue and cry over killing of dogs in China? So, for the former- Tigers are Endangered. There aren’t a whole lot left in the world to make steak out of. She does not relent but I do feel like a hypocrite when I am all for beef consumption but would gladly sign a petition condemning Yulin festival in China. What I condemn is the brutality with which those dogs are tortured and killed. But the right to their consumption remains with the citizens. The gruesome reality does not feed the fodder of my argument. If I stick to my own canon, all animals must then be equal.

What NDA is doing is not based on sound economics either, if they plan to squeeze all the profits out of this nation. India ranks 97th out of 118 in the Global Hunger Index. People are starving across the country, with southern states reeling under the worst drought in decades. In such a situation, selling unproductive cattle earns them extra bucks that are the difference between a full and an empty stomach. Also, the fact that Centre has not banned cattle slaughter but only ‘banned sale of cattle for slaughter through animal markets’ is walking a thin line. This has supposedly been done to counter illegal slaughter houses and ensure hygienic conditions but all this ban would effectively do is drive the industry underground, pushing thousands out from the ambit of cattle sale in the markets amidst excessive legalities. Unproductive cattle are an economic burden, one which farmers, who are strapped for cash, cannot afford. The irony of India being the world’s largest beef meat (buffalo though) exporter isn’t lost on me. Since the order now includes buffalo, the economic scene may waver a bit. We also have a flourishing leather industry which may face tough times, and the consequences may not bode well for the economic super-power dream that has been fed to us. Regulating the conditions under which slaughter takes place is necessary but eliminating cattle trade from animal markets for now seems very restrictive.

A new order may be passed after certain petitions post which buffaloes may be removed from the ambit of the ban. The economic dream may well thrive. But we still have our holy cows.

Maybe in Modi’s world, much like Orwell’s, some animals are more equal than others.