Indian couple reach settlement with major Australian bank after suing for $1.9 billion

Sep 22, 2016 0

Melbourne–One of Australia’s biggest banks reached a settlement with an Indian couple on Thursday who sued the company for $1.9 billion.

Pankaj and Radhika Oswal alleged that Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ) short-changed them $580 million when selling the couple’s majority stake in Burrup Fertilisers after the company went into receivership, Xinhua news agency reported.

ANZ said the terms of the settlement were confidential but the deal with the Oswals meant the bank would take a $110 million hit to its bottom line this year.

A spokesperson for the Oswals said the couple, who also settled a tax bill with the Australian Taxation Office (ATO) worth an estimated $76.4 million, would be leaving Australia.

“They’re very satisfied with the settlement. They were very pleased to be able to put the facts before the court and they’re pleased that it’s over,” the spokesman said in a statement on Thursday.

Pankaj Oswal (left) and his wife Radhika (right) and daughter Vasundhara leave court in Melbourne: There is little doubt it was the bank that blinked first. Photo courtesy: AAP

Pankaj Oswal (left) and his wife Radhika (right) and daughter Vasundhara leave court in Melbourne: Photo courtesy: AAP and Sydney Morning Herald.

“They won’t be staying in Australia. They are now planning their futures.”

“The ($110 million) does not reflect the size of the settlement but the Oswals are bound by confidentiality to not disclose the details.”

Shayne Elliott, CEO of ANZ, said that the settlement does not mean the bank has accepted guilt.

“ANZ does not accept many of the claims made in court and we completely reject the allegations made against our staff,” Elliott said in a statement to shareholders.

“However, we believe the settlement is the right decision for shareholders bearing in mind the residual risks in a case of this size and complexity.”

The Oswals’ spokesman said it was “curious” that the bank would be willing to pay a significant amount of money to stop allegations that it claimed were untrue.

The Oswals were forced to abandon the construction of their Perth mega-mansion, dubbed “the Taj on the Swan” due to its position on the Swan River, in 2010.

A local council announced in September that the 6,600 sq.mt house, which the couple planned to spend $53 million to build, would be demolished and turned into road-building material. (IANS)

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Bahamas Papers expose on 475 India-linked names with offshore accounts

Sep 22, 2016 0

N0ew Delhi– A fresh expose on what is being termed as ‘Bahamas Papers’ has listed 475 India-related people, trusts and companies registered in the tax haven, including Vedanta Group’s Anil Agarwal, erstwhile Baron Group’s Kabir Mulchandani and Fashion TV India promoter Aman Gupta.

This have been revealed by The Indian Express, which says a new cache of documents is with German newspaper Suddeutche Zeitung, which has, in turn, shared it with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists and its media partners, including the Indian paper.

The 475 India-related dossiers are part of over 175,000 global ones, said the paper. The leaks, nonetheless, do not necessarily indicate any illegality on part of the offshore holdings.

Non-resident Indians who are citizens of other countries do not violate Indian laws by holding such companies. Bahamas, a tax haven, is a group of 700 islands in the Atlantic Ocean north of Cuba.

Probe is on in the case of previous expose, which came to light following the leak of papers belonging to a Panama-based law firm Mossack Fonseca which helped in the setting up of offshore firms.

The release of fresh leaks comes days before the September 30 deadline of the Indian government for individuals and corporates to declare their hidden wealth and come clean by paying a 45-per cent penalty.

Anil Agarwal’s name is linked with a trust in which he is named as a director. “Onclave PTC is a trust company, acting as a trustee of Agarwal’s family trust. This information is disclosed to the income tax authorities,” a spokesman is quoted as having told the newspaper.

Prasad and Prakash Nimmagadda, with interests in realty to pharmaceuticals, is another set of names. Prasad is already being probed by the Central Bureau of Investigation in another case, which had also arrested him in May 2012, and got bail 17 months later, the newspaper said.

“I would not like to discuss this issue over phone. We can meet personally and talk about it. I will tell you everything,” Prasad has been quoted as telling the Express. This was followed by calls by his office later cancelling a total of three appointments that had been fixed, the Express said.

As regards Chandigarh-based Harbhajan Kaur and Gurjit Dhillon, mother-daughter duo linked to one Century Industries registered in the Bahamas, both denied any knowledge. Aman Gupta, chairman of a Finnish water brand, said he is an NRI and that the company in question was inactive.

In Rajan Madhu’s case, — stated as the brother-in-law of pharma tycoon Gautam Thadani, licence holder for Fashion TV and the ‘F’ brand in India and a director in 15 companies — the Bahamas link is allegedly with Pollux Corporate Service. Madhu did not respond to Express queries.

Then there are Ganapati Rathinam, Shomik Prasanna Mukherjee, Prabir Harshad Talati and Nitin Vashdev Meran, all of whom declined any wrong-doing. Naresh Kumar Modi of New Delhi is mentioned as sole director of an offshore company, but he was out of station when Express visited him.

Myra Delores Rego of Mumbai and Ashok Chalwa of Delhi are linked with an American and a Brit. The former said the company she is linked with is dormant and that they merely used her name, while Chawla said he was framed, and that he was never a director in any offshore company.

Finally, the names of Sanjiv Kapoor, Jitendra P. Patra and Sadat Rafiq Multani have been inter-linked, along with Dubai-based Kabir Mulchandani, who pioneered India’s colour TV movement in the 1990s.

Kapoor said he was holding shares in the Bahamas company in a fiduciary capacity — corroborated by Munlchandani, while Multani denied owning any company in the Bahamas. The paper was silent on Patra’s response, if he gave any. (IANS)

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Vodafone Group infuses Rs 47,700 crore in India unit

Sep 22, 2016 0

New Delhi–Just a few days ahead of the biggest-ever telecom spectrum auction, Vodafone India on Thursday announced that it has received an equity infusion of Rs 47,700 crore from Vodafone Group in the first half of the current fiscal.

“This equity infusion of Rs 47,700 crore, which we believe is the largest ever in India, will enable Vodafone India to continue its investments in spectrum and expansion of networks across various technology layers delivering the best of experience to our hundreds of million customers,” said Sunil Sood, MD and CEO, Vodafone India.

Sunil Sood

Sunil Sood

Vodafone India is a 100 per cent fully owned subsidiary of the Vodafone Group.

The telecom service provider has around 200 million customers in the country. Over half of its customers (107 million) come from rural India.

The company has around 22.5 per cent revenue market share.

“With our commitment to support the Digital India vision, we are building one of the most modern and scalable telecom networks to deliver connectivity and the Vodafone SuperNetâ„¢ experience to all, for both voice and data,” Sood said.

Seven telecom service providers, including Bharti Airtel, Vodafone India, Reliance Jio, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications, Aircel and Tata Teleservices are participating in India’s biggest-ever telecom spectrum auction that will start from October 1.

The total amount of spectrum that will be offered for sale is 2,354.55 MHz. Overall, based on the reserve price, the mop up is expected to be Rs 5.66 lakh crore.

The 2,300-plus MHz of airwaves on the block for telecom operators is in seven bands — 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz, 2,300 MHz and 2,500 MHz — as against 470.75 MHz in the previous round, which is set to fetch the exchequer $17 billion during its tenure.

The timetable of the auction has put the mock auction dates on September 26 and 27 and the start of actual auction from October 1.

The government has decided to allot the right to the spectrum won through auction for 20 years. (IANS)

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Industrialist Adi Godrej conferred Clinton Global Citizen Award

Sep 21, 2016 0

New York– Industrialist Adi Godrej, the Chairman of Mumbai-based Godrej Group, was conferred the 10th Annual Clinton Global Citizen Award for leadership in business and philanthropy.

The award recognises Godrej’s “leadership in transforming the intersection of business and philanthropy and making the Godrej Group a global example of what can be achieved through inclusive, sustainable business strategies”.

It was presented by Hikmet Ersek, CEO and President Western Union, in the presence of former US President Bill Clinton and his daughter Chelsea in New York on Monday.

Adi Godrej (Photo: Wikipedia)

Adi Godrej (Photo: Wikipedia)

Accepting the award, Godrej said that for the Godrej Group, it has always been the most important to remain ‘a good company’ besides having strong financial performance and innovative, much loved products.

“This has held us in very good stead for nearly 120 years… We have always actively championed social responsibility and are deeply committed to driving the social progress of our communities,” Godrej said.

He revealed that 24 per cent of the holding company is in a trust that invests in the environment, health and education sectors and many global companies have adopted a “shared value” approach to business growth and innovations.

Pointing out how it links business success with social progress to create values in both, Godrej said through its Good and Green strategy, it was committed to creating a more employable workforce, building a greener India and innovating for good and green products.

Established in 2007, the Clinton Global Citizen Awards embody the former US President’s call to action by honouring outstanding individuals who exemplify global citizenship through their vision and leadership.

Some of the past awardees include Jon Bon Jovi for the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Foundation in the US, President Juan Manuel Santos of Colombia and Dr. Hawa Abdi of Somalia.

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Modi government breaks 92-year-old legacy, to merge rail, general budgets

Sep 21, 2016 0

New Delhi–In a major financial sector reform, India on Wednesday decided to do away with a 92-year-old legacy of separate general and railway budgets by unifying them, a tradition that has been continuing since British colonial times.

The budget presentation date in all likelihood is being advanced to February 1 every year, from the last day of February as was the norm.

“From coming year, the railway and the general budgets will be amalgamated. There will be only one budget. And secondly, distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure will be ended from next year. Consequently there will be only one appropriation bill,” Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley said here after a Cabinet meeting.

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley

Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley

Jaitley said over the years the general budget expenditures have gone up than the railways, and added that ministries like defence have more expenditures than railways but form part of the general budget.

The decision to merge the rail and general budgets was mooted by Railway Minister Suresh Prabhu and endorsed by NITI Aayog’s member Bibek Debroy, which also proposed the doing away of the distinction between plan and non-plan expenditure.

Both Jaitley and Prabhu clarified that the distinct identity of the Indian Railways will be maintained — including the freedom to raise resources via extra-budgetary means.

“Functional autonomy of the Railways will be maintained,” Jaitley said.

“This is a historic step, matching global benchmark and best. This will help raise capital expenditure in Railways which will enhance connectivity in the country and boost economic growth,” Prabhu said.

“Distinct identity of Railways will be maintained. Our effort to leverage extra budgetary resources will continue,” he added.

The Railways pay about Rs 10,000 crore as dividend annually.

While clarifying on the new date of the budget, Jaitley said it will be advanced and the government in-principle wants the Finance Bill to be passed before March 31. But the date of the budget will be decided depending on various state elections dates.

The advancement of the date is to ensure the Finance Bill is passed in the first half of the Budget session than to spill over to the second half after recess.

Non-plan expenditure is what the government spends on the so-called non-productive areas, such as salaries, subsidies, loans and interest, while plan expenditure pertains to the money to be set aside for productive purposes, like the various projects of ministries.

Finance ministry officials said after the abolition of the Planning Commission, the relevance of plan and non-plan expenditure is lost — and a better indicator of productive and general expenditure will be a distinction under the heads of revenue and capital. (IANS)

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CBI arrests Financial Technologies of India founder Jignesh Shah, raids offices, home

Sep 20, 2016 0

Mumbai– The CBI on Tuesday arrested Financial Technologies of India Ltd (FTIL) founder-owner Jignesh Shah and carried out raids at nine locations including his offices and home, an official said here.

Apart from Shah’s residential and office premises, the Central Bureaue of Investigation (CBI) carried out searches at the premises of FTIL, MCX Stock Exchange, MCX-SX, former SEBI AGM Muralidhar Rao, DGM Rajesh Dangeti, AGM Vishakha More and exicutive director J.N. Gupta in connection with the case.

Jignesh Shah

Jignesh Shah

The agency had already filed a First Information Report (FIR) in the case under sections of criminal conspiracy and cheating of Indian Penal Code and under the provisions of Prevention of Corruption Act for alleged abuse of official position.

The action is part of an ongoing investigation. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) said it has recovered incriminating documents pertaining to shares transfer by private companies, FDRs, and purchase of assets which are being scrutinized.

In March 2014, CBI had filed a preliminary report against Shah, former Securities and Exchange Board of India Chairman C.B. Bhave, and ex-member K. M. Abraham and others pertaining to alleged irregularities in granting sanction to the MCX Stock Exchange by SEBI in 2008 to conduct trade in currency derivatives and renewing its licence in 2009-2010.

It was alleged that the company had “dishonestly entered into a buyback arrangement with some financial institutions in violation of the Securities Contract Regulation Act, 1956” and other laws and deliberately suppressed this material fact while applying for extension of its recognition.

The SEBI has allegedly rejected its request for trading in other segments in 2010, but renewed the registration even though it did not comply with SEBI-MMIPS Regulations.

The MCX-SX was founded by FTIL and its commodity exchange arm, the MCX and launched full-fledged stock exchange operations in 2013 after a long battle with the SEBI.

The CBI action on Tuesday comes barely two months after the Economic Offences Wing of Mumbai Police had attached FTIL’s assets worth over Rs 7,000 crore on July 24 in a case of money-laundering filed by the Enforcement Directorate. (IANS)

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App-based cab services push ‘kaali-peelis’ to the brink

Sep 20, 2016 0

New Delhi– The age-old proverb “old is gold” may not hold true for traditional black-yellow taxis any more, given the people’s increasing preference for app-based cab services for intra-city movements.

And, why not? After all, who would not opt for a service that comes cheaper and at less waiting time.

In an age of technology, when almost every sphere of human activity is touched by high-tech gadgets and gizmos, making things faster at lesser cost, people going for cab aggregation apps does not come as a surprise. Change is the rule of nature, and the change is here, in the form of Ola, Uber and many more lesser known online cab aggregators.

Jaspal Singh

Jaspal Singh

Today, Ola has captured over 75 per cent of the taxi market share in the metros. It has nearly 250,000 cars linked to its online app across over 100 cities in the country, leaving little room for the traditional “kaali-peeli” (black and yellow) taxis.

In Delhi-NCR alone, there are over 80,000 cabs operating with the app-based taxi companies, while the number of traditional taxis stands at a meagre 7,000, approximately. That says it all.

Most of the “kaali-peeli” taxi stands across the city wear a deserted look, with vehicles lined up and awaiting their turn on a call from passengers. Drivers can easily be found dozing off in the adjacent rest rooms for want of taxi-seekers.

“I have been in this business since 1989 and have eight vehicles with me. But ever since the emergence of these private cab aggregators, our business has been badly hit,” Jaspal Singh, 58, owner of Sant Longwal Taxi Service in east Delhi’s Mayur Vihar area, told IANS.

Jaspal pointed out that against the government-fixed rate of Rs 12 per kilometre, the cab aggregators ply at Rs 6 per kilometre — and it is this disparity in rates that has dealt a body blow to their business.

He alleged that the government is hand in glove with the cab aggregators. “The government has asked the private cabs to put meters in their vehicles, but that is being violated every day, and it has failed to act against those violating rules with impunity.

Dilip, a “kaali-peeli” driver, said that earlier, they would get at least four to five customers every day, but now they have to keep waiting for even a single call.

But what is it that made the people switch loyalties so fast?

“Well, it is solely because of refusals by the taxi drivers, fleecing by a section of them and security concerns that have gone against the ‘kaali-peelis’ and for the cab aggregators,” said Arindam Choudhury, a Kolkata commuter.

Today, not more than 27,000 traditional taxis are left on the roads of the ‘City of Joy’.

“You call out five taxis and they refuse, the sixth one does agree, but demands Rs 30 to Rs 50 extra. So, the best option is to go for the cab aggregators, especially when you are travelling late at night, as GPS devices fitted to their vehicles give a sense of security,” said another commuter, Pratyush Singh, a 30-year old bank employee.

Similarly, if for businessman R. Tapadia, app-based services are more professional, entrepreneur T. Ghosh finds their services safer for women.

However, following repeated pleas to address their concerns, the West Bengal government has come out with a notification, stating that Kolkata’s all-yellow taditional cabs will be GPS enabled and can be booked through mobile phone apps, which will also be connected to the police headquarters. Just like the new-age cabs, these taxis will also have an emergency button, closed-circuit TV cameras and the like.

One can expect the new-look services ahead of next month’s Durga Puja festival.

Mumbai is another major city that has been taxi-dependent since long for last-mile connectivity. While previously the traditional “kaali-peeli” cabs were the sole option, now those are under severe pressure from the cab aggregators.

“In barely one-and-a-half years, we have lost 60 per cent of our business to them,” bemoaned Bombay Taximen’s Union General Secretary A.L. Quadros. “The ‘kaali-peelis’ have been badly hit, as customers now prefer the app-based or on-call cabs.”

“In 1997, when the Maharashtra government had frozen fresh permits for the black-yellow cabs, there were 63,000 plying in Mumbai, which had a population of nine million. After 20 years, only 40,000 black-yellow cabs are there though the city’s population has touched a whopping 16 million,” Quadros pointed out.

“In line with the court orders, the authorities must fix a uniform minimum-maximum rate for all cabs, which will help us get back our customers,” Quadros said.

Similarly, the entry of autorickshaws in large numbers in Chennai several decades back forced the black-yellow taxis out of the city roads by serving the inbound travellers at Chennai airport, and Central and Egmore railway stations. But the entry of radio taxis or ‘call taxis’, like FastTrack, Ola and others, have virtually sounded a death knell for them, according to G. Kannan, Joint Secretary, Chennai Airport Pre-paid Taxi Owner-Driver Association.

On the reasons for the loss of customers, though he did not rule out the cost factor, he also stressed that the customer preference is fast changing now. “Many commuters do not like to be seen in the black-yellow vehicles,” Kannan said, adding that perhaps travelling in app-based taxis looks more “hep” these days. (IANS)

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Anandi Ramalingam: the first woman director of Bharat Electronics

Sep 19, 2016 0

Bengaluru–State-run Bharat Electronics Ltd (BEL) on Monday announced the appointment of Anandi Ramalingam as its first woman whole-time director.

Ramalingam, who assumed charge as director (marketing), was General Manager of the military communication strategic business unit in the Bengaluru complex prior to her elevation, said the company in a statement here.

Anandi Ramalingam (Photo courtesy: Business Standard)

Anandi Ramalingam (Photo courtesy: Business Standard)

With over three decades experience in the city-based public sector enterprise, Ramalingam has expertise in equipment testing gained by working across domains of military communication.

“She headed testing for ‘Shakti’, the flagship artillery combat command and control system, developed indigenously with DRDO for the Indian army and its radio engineered network,” the statement said.

In 2004, Ramalingam was part of the team, which had set up marketing division for the military communication & electronic warfare unit here, it said, adding that in 2010, she was moved to international marketing division to head defence offsets, establishing the company as a reliance global supply chain partner for original equipment manufacturers.

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India 2nd largest market for FbStart: Facebook executive

Sep 19, 2016 0

By Sourabh Kulesh

New Delhi– India is the largest market for Facebook’s global progaramme to help developers build apps – FbStart – outside the US, a senior company executive said.

Launched in India in 2014, Facebook’s FbStart is a free one-year programme to help early stage mobile developers build, grow and monetise their apps.

“The reason for our existence is to make the world more open and connected and we have been trying achieving it though our family of apps over the past 12 years,” Satyajeet Singh, who leads Product Partnerships for Facebook in India, told IANS.

Satyajeet Singh

Satyajeet Singh

More than 75 per cent of top-grossing apps in India get integrated with the social media giant, Singh said.

“Each month, 1.7 billion people use Facebook, one billion use WhatsApp, one billion use Messenger and over 500 million people use Instagram to connect and share their experiences but still billions of people are unconnected. That is why, we’ve built tools like Facebook Platform and initiated programmes like FbStart, to help other developers in scaling their products and businesses and connect the world faster” he pointed out.

With FbStart, the developers are provided all the tools necessary for scaling their products faster, which includes open source tools like React Native for a faster cross platform app development, FB Login and Account Kit for seamless account creation, App Analytics to understand the user behaviour, and many more.

“Once they start getting some traction, FbStart can provide them free access to over 25 free services to take it to the next level. So it’s like helping developers in transforming their idea into a full fledge startup.” he said.

The company is organising an eight roadshows in cities such as Kochi, Chennai, Hyderabad, Mumbai, Pune, Ahmedabad, Jaipur and Chandigarh, to interact with developers in some of these cities, and help understand the specialty about a region and what platform products can be built to help them.

Singh noted that under FbStart, there is scope for high potential mobile start-ups who are developing high quality apps and have seen some growth in their target market and FbStart is taking them to the next level.

“It started off with a 100 developers and now they are over 9,000 start-ups in 147 countries,” he said.

Noting that Indian market for FbStart is growing very rapidly, members in the platform regularly reach out to the company especially on the tools and services that they require.

The company now wants to go even deeper and support their developer ecosystem and understand the main concerns of the developers, Singh said.

While acknowledging that technologies such as Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR), are the future, Singh said that FbStart has tools and platforms for building programmes irrespective of which domain one is working on.

We continue taking feedback on our community on how we can improve it, he added. (IANS)

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Book Review: Making of a media empire and how hubris and miscalculations lost it

Sep 18, 2016 0

By Vikas Datta

Title: Network18 – The Audacious Story of a Start-up that Became a Media Empire; Author: Indira Kannan; Publisher: Portfolio Penguin; Pages: 352; Price: Rs 699

It was a start-up, even before the word was coined, and perhaps the best example of the creative achievements spurred by India’s path-breaking economic reforms since 1991. But the journey of Raghav Bahl from heading a small production company to a media conglomerate also demonstrates the moral and economic choices necessary in such a venture, which may not always mean a happy ending.

The story of TV18’s transformation into Network 18, before it changed hands, is also a tale of inspired vision, of audacious risk-taking, of alternating crises and opportunities, of last-minute negotiations reversing agreed outcomes, struggles with obdurate bureaucrats, which could not envisage or ignored the media’s special circumstances, and above all, the inexorable laws of the market. And Indira Kannan, who was on board for most of the journey, tells it like a cliff-hanger it perhaps would have been.

network18Kannan, who joined TV18 in 1995 when it was still a production company — known for its slick shows for existing cable networks — saw it become a channel itself in 1999, diversify immensely through the first decade of the new millennium and was with it till 2011. She starts her story in May 1995 with one of the first major controversies it faced.

There would be few now who would remember the bold and sassy “The Nikki Show” hosted by British-Indian actress and Kabir Bedi’s then wife on Star Plus, as it went off air after a few episodes. However one notorious edition was enough to threaten to land the host, guest and prominent gay rights activist Ashok Row Kavi, as well as Bahl and his partner Sanjay Ray Chaudhri, (or RayC as he was known) and Star TV owner Rupert Murdoch behind bars for denigrating the Mahatma.

And from this — possibly the first but unfortunately not the last time the electronic media figured in an unsavoury controversy that became politicised — starts the account of a venture that would utterly change the face of media, and the business of media, in India in the decades to come.

From there, Kannan takes us back to the circumstances in which TV18 was started in 1991. With short but pertinent biographies of the main protagonists and a string of telling anecdotes, she writes of the full advantage they took of opportunities offered by the advent of cable TV and the arrival of BBC, Murdoch’s Star, and later Zee, to slowly become a well-recognised brand. There are also the forays with Business TV and its television arm, and later with ABN in association with the Hindujas, both of which had less than the desired outcomes, and ended on a messy note.

The book takes up TV18’s transformation into a business channel, the broadening into news and general programming — where the two developments that most stand out are the way that CNN, which had come to an agreement with NDTV, was convinced to tie up with them instead, and how bureaucratic opposition to its telecast was sort of short-circuited with the “accidental” transmission of a message by then Information and Broadcasting Minister, Priya Ranjan Dasmunshi.

Another key episode is the background of the “sting” of the alleged bribery of MPs ahead of the 2008 trust vote in the Manmohan Singh government — where Bahl’s usual hands-off approach proved costly — and the consequences that ensued.

On the other hand, Kannan makes no attempt to hide the miscalculations and the mistakes, in particular, a point of hubris, which began the road towards eventual change of ownership. Though best related in the foreword contributed by Bahl himself, it is also moot that it is easier to be wise after the incident, and many consequences of decisions are not apparent till much later.

But while telling the story of Bahl and his ambitious venture, the account also offers an incisive look at the development of TV programming and the media business over the last three decades and more, particularly in the post-liberalisation phase. Kannan has written a racy, well-written book, though without critical appraisal of the man who was her boss for a long time. Perhaps she was too close to the man or the events to be too critical. Nevertheless, it serves as a valuable read for both businessmen and media persons.

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