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Aviation Secy, wife get cut-rate Air India tickets to US, upgrade to Business

Author: Shyamlal Yadav
Publication: The Indian Express
Date: May 14, 2022
URL:      https://indianexpress.com/article/business/aviation/aviation-secy-wife-get-cut-rate-a-i-tickets-to-us-upgrade-to-business-7916497/

The Indian Express has learnt that the Bansals were not only upgraded to Business class but they were also offered Economy Class ticket at rates lower than what other passengers reportedly had to pay.

Air India may have been sold to the Tata Group but, at least, in one aspect, it seems, its disinvestment isn’t complete: upgrading seats and “special handling” of a Government officer. Records reviewed by The Indian Express show that Rajiv Bansal, Secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, who left for United States May 7 on a personal trip with his wife Aparna Bansal bought Air India Economy Class tickets at a rate cheaper than other passengers on their booking dates. After boarding, their seating was upgraded to Business Class.

Bansal, a 1988 batch IAS officer, was appointed Secretary on September 22 last year a day after the government decided to sell its stake in Air India. He took charge on October 1, 2021.

He has served Air India earlier as its Chairman-cum-Managing Director (CMD).

Bansal and his wife Aparna Bansal left for Newark (New Jersey, United States) on Air India flight AI-105 on May 7. They are scheduled to return later this month.

A day before his scheduled flight, records show, an official from the Office of Chief Commercial Officer (CCO Nipun Aggarwal) wrote an email to several officials of Air India asking for “meet and assist,” “special handling” and an upgrade to Business “subject to availability” for the Bansals.

The Indian Express has learnt that the Bansals were not only upgraded to Business class but they were also offered Economy Class ticket at rates lower than what other passengers reportedly had to pay.

Records show Rajiv Bansal’s ticket was booked on April 1, 2022, and his wife’s on February 24, 2022. For other passengers, round-trip rates for that route that day were about Rs 80,000 (for February 24) and nearly Rs 1.41 lakh (for April 1). However, sources said that both the Bansal tickets were at a “much reduced rate.”

The Indian Express sent an email to Rajiv Bansal asking him about the upgrade, the reduced fares for his tickets, and whether this raised questions of propriety. “I would suggest that you verify the facts with the owners of the airline first,” Bansal replied.

The Indian Express asked Air India CCO Aggarwal about the email sent from his office asking for special handling and the upgrade. In response, Aruna Gopalakrishnan, ED, Corporate Affairs, wrote: “Air India has an SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) for extending protocol and upgrades subject to space availability and other related factors. We would not like to comment on individual cases.”
 
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Author: Alka Dhupkar
Publication: The Times of India
Date: May 2, 2022
URL:      https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/loudspeaker-lessons-for-india-from-a-maharashtra-village/articleshow/91259002.cms

The villagers of Barad have passed a resolution to stop the use of loudspeakers

Barad shows that strong-arm tactics are not needed to curb noise pollution; a simple matter of sitting across a table and discussing can do wonders

Barad is a biggish village in Nanded district of Maharashtra with a population of around 15,000. It is roughly 20km from Nanded city. Over time, the village has prospered and places of worship, among other buildings, have been renovated.

The village has 15 religious places — 12 Hindu temples and a place of worship each for Buddhist, Jain and Muslim communities. In some neighbourhoods, these religious places are in close proximity. No problem there.

It was only when these places started using loudspeakers to broadcast sermons, aartis and bhajans that the problem started. It became a veritable Tower of Babel — all noise and confusion.

“Since five in the morning, we used to play songs. In some places, one couldn’t hear the other’s songs or for that matter what was played in our temple,” says Suresh Deshmukh, a trustee of the local Hanuman temple.

For days on end, farmer Sharad Kawle’s 80-year-old grandmother couldn’t get a peaceful night’s sleep because of the rampant use of loudspeakers in the village.

But all this is in the past now. In charged times like these, Barad stands out as a model of communal harmony. Back in 2018, the villagers unanimously decided to remove loudspeakers from all religious places.

So, what happened in 2018?

According to deputy sarpanch Balasaheb Shankarao Deshmukh, sometime in December 2017, a Ganesh temple was using loudspeakers to broadcast maha aarti and a Buddha vihar nearby was playing religious songs. This went on till late at night.

“Groups from both sides started raising voices against each other, asking that the volume be lowered. Harmony in the village was completely disturbed,” he says. “Somehow we managed to cool tempers, but the tension simmered.”

But this wasn’t the only incident. A local school kept complaining about noise pollution to the Shiva temple trust and others in their area. The students couldn’t concentrate on studies because there was a kind of competition in using loudspeakers till late night and early mornings among all the religions.

The villagers were fed up. Some of them met after the tension escalated between Buddha and Ganpati followers. During a meeting with the local police, they discussed the proposal of removing all loudspeakers.

Thereafter, the villagers held a meeting with all the religious groups separately. Everybody accepted that the use of loudspeakers was a cause for concern and social discord. The religious trusts said if it was mandatory for all religious groups then they would also stop using loudspeakers.

After the consultations, a special gram sabha was called and a unanimous resolution was passed.

The villagers agreed to use sound boxes instead of loudspeakers. The only caveat: the volume of the sound box should be maintained at a pre-mandated level so the sound does not go beyond the walls of the holy place.

The gram panchayat has already installed around 40 small sound boxes for local announcements such as deaths, vaccination or other government programmes.

After the noise, peace

Yogesh Ratnparakhi, who runs Om Sai Coaching Classes in Barad, says, “In my centre, there are around 100 students and I can’t tell you how happy we all are that the loudspeakers have finally stopped. Earlier, students would use unending noise as an excuse not to study. Now, they properly focus on studies.”

Kiran Mahajan, a trustee of Chandra Prabhu Digambar Jain temple, says, “Ours is a private temple that is open to the public. We too had installed a loudspeaker because others installed it too. But after the removal of loudspeakers, we didn’t lose any devotees. Loudspeakers actually don’t matter.”

Sharad Kawle, the farmer, says, “Many of us in this village are followers of the Varkari bhakti movement. I believe that your religious activity should not disturb others. Keep it personal, so we all supported this proposal.”

His views are echoed by Sardar Sattar Khan Pathan of Jama Masjid in Barad. “We respect festivals of all communities. The kind of communal harmony we have maintained would not have been possible with loudspeakers at each religious place in the village.”

According to Vasant Lalme, a trustee of the Shiva temple, loudspeakers are not essential for singing bhajans or kirtans. “Devotion is a very personal feeling. It can be attained without loudspeakers. We have proved it.”

Model village

Deputy sarpanch Deshmukh, however, is disappointed that his village has not been given due recognition for the innovative solution to the menace of unchecked loudspeakers. The village doesn’t encourage the use of loudspeakers even for political rallies, weddings or other celebrations.

In other ways, too, Barad can be touted as a model village. It has received state awards for cleanliness and drinking water distribution management, open defecation-free status, success of ‘tanta mukti’ yojana (a scheme to clear local disputes at the village level) and other achievements.

The village has 20 CCTV cameras, which have helped curb theft, sexual harassment and other crimes. The village has developed a proper watershed system; a dormitory near a rural hospital is a unique feature of the village. It has also built a hostel for girl students, it has a zilla parishad school, multiple anganwadis, among other facilities.

As the noise over the use of loudspeakers at religious places grows louder and various state governments are using strong-arm tactics, perhaps it is Barad’s use of consultation that stands out more than its other achievements.