June 18, 2021
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Vajpayee's bid to strike a balance in the PMO, Ruia brothers' master stroke, the channel wars heat up and more....

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Photo: AP After the rather unceremonious exit of controversial OSD N.K. Singh and the appointment of Joint Secretary Pradipto Ghosh in the Prime Minister's Office (PMO), there are strong indications from the PMO (read Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Principal Secretary Brajesh Mishra) that a search has begun for one more person in the rank of either Joint Secretary or Additional Secretary. Not many know who the person would be, but PMO insiders claim duties -- once the person is hired -- will be charted out in two sections. One person will handle key economic issues and also those pertaining to social development while the other will coordinate the chambers of commerce and other apex bodies. This, claim insiders, will help check growing criticism about a section of the PMO favouring a few industrial groups in the country. The appointment, it is reliably learnt, will take place after Vajpayee returns from his sojourn in Manali.

Photo: Prashant Panjiar Never mind if Indian shipping is not ranked among the finest in the world. But this one move from Essar Shipping has taken global giants -- especially those from the Scandinavian belt -- completely by surprise. Mumbai-based Essar Shipping has formed the world's first consortium for suezmax tankers with more than 51 per cent stake in the venture. Shipping experts see this as a significant move by the Ruia brothers, ostensibly because suezmax tankers are in great demand across the globe for carrying crude oil to a host of destinations from both the Middle East and North Sea. And the recent move to form the consortium (and operate from one of the Pacific Rim tax havens) will help the Indian company maintain a strategic hold on the business, considered an important bargaining bait in global crude movements.

What actually happened before the government decided to suspend Air-India Managing Director M Mascarenhas? While one section in the bureaucracy claims it was because of his tensions with Commercial Director V.K. Verma, there's another story doing the rounds in the corridors of the Ministries of Civil Aviation and Finance. And it is that Mascarenhas told two UK-based delegations that Air-India is worth nothing and that the only aircrafts worth-a-look were the four in the 747-400 series. The delegations, which came to do a due-diligence report on some prospective buyers, narrated the same to the Ministry of Finance officials who, in turn, informed Yashwant Sinha who promptly called Sharad Yadav and explained his officials' embarassment during the meeting with the visitors from London. The rest is already news.

Photo: T.Narayan Tourism Minister Ananth Kumar appears to be upbeat about the future of inbound tourism but reality shows otherwise. Recently, Delta Airways informed the government that it was contemplating suspending its India operations. The Delta move follows close on the heels of the All-Nippon Airways (ANA) decision to suspend operations from India. And while mandarins in the Ministry of Civil Aviation grappled with the dual issue of Delta and ANA, came the news that two airlines from Canada -- Air Canada and Canada 3000 -- had put their India plans on the backburner. Will someone explain what is the real crisis?

Is the government looking for a new Petroleum Secretary to replace S Shankar? It appears so, especially because of Shankar's continuing tensions with the Minister Ram Naik over a host of issues (including the second round of New Exploration Licensing Policy -- NELP -- wherein Shankar raised a host of objections about the way NELP II was handled). Besides, there are rumours that Shankar has asked for a detailed report on how a number of political parties were routinely coercing state-owned oil and gas companies to cough up funds (as donations). So who are the two in the race? Ministry sources say two names doing the rounds are Telecom Secretary Shyamal Ghosh and Power Secretary A.K. Basu. But what remains to be seen is whether the Prime Minister agrees to a change or not.

Photo: Atul Loke Two channels feeling the heat from Star's KBC and soap magic (read Kyunki Saas Bhi Kabhi, Kahani Ghar Ghar, Kalash, etc.) are Sony Entertainment Television (SET) and Zee TV. While SET CEO Kunal Dasgupta is trying hard to woo HFCL-Channel9 programming head Raveena Raj Kohli, Zee TV was desperately trying hard to beef up its South India viewership and had acquired the rights of a highly popular serial called Chitti. The channel is now contemplating launching the same sometime in July and is currently negotiating with Sri Devi, Tabu and Dimple Kapadia for an anchor's role. Zee TV also wants a high profile journalist to head its Delhi operations and is currently eyeing a few from NDTV. Remember former Information and Broadcating Minister C.M. Ibrahim and his planned Urdu channels, Al-Hind (news and current affairs) and Falaq? Well, the news is that both the projects have been shelved for reasons unknown.

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