“Easing” Cancellation Will Lead to Higher Air Fares

Mint reports that the Union Civil Aviation Ministry is seeking to “ease rules for air ticket cancellation” in a bid to make air travel more customer-friendly. According to the draft rules,

  • Passenger allowed Lock-in option for 24 hours(after booking ticket) in which the passenger can cancel or amend the ticket without any additional charges.

While at first sight this might look like a passenger friendly move, it is likely to result in an overall increase in air fares.

I have argued before in Pragati that a reservation to travel consists of two instruments – the travel itself and the option to travel on the said route on the said day and time. In other words, the cancellation fees can be looked at as an option premium paid by the customer to exercise an option to travel on the particular route on the particular day.

When a ticket gets cancelled, the customer is effectively choosing to not exercise her option to travel. So it is fair that they not pay the cost of travel itself, and be refunded that amount. The reason travel companies levy a cancellation charge is to compensate them for the cost of the option to travel (the price of an option doesn’t depend on whether the holder chooses to exercise it).

The proposed regulation by the Civil Aviation Ministry requires airlines to offer this option for free for a limited period of time (24 hours after booking). While 24 hours may not be a high number, it can still result in people taking advantage of the free option by making bookings that they may later cancel or reschedule. And the airlines will want to get compensated for the free option they are providing.

It is likely that they will achieve this compensation by adjusting prices elsewhere – such as the price of travel itself or the price of the options where there is no price cap. And this is likely to hurt passengers.

All the new regulations from the Civil Aviation Ministry will achieve is to redistribute from passengers with firm schedules (who are more likely to be “retail customers”, from the middle class, etc.) in favour of those who may want to keep their schedules open for a day (more likely to be premium, corporate customers).

Once again invoking Ravikiran Rao, #thatzwhy we need strong regulations.

Dancing Hens and Rorschach Tests

So campaigning has ended ahead of the Karnataka elections to be held on Saturday. So this is a good opportunity to let voters in Bangalore know the “shapes” of their constituencies, if it is going to have any impact on their voting decisions.

Here is what the 25 constituencies that lie entirely within the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP) limits look like. You are encouraged to make your own guesses on what each constituency looks like.

The “shapes” of various constituencies in Bangalore.

For one, Padmanabha Nagar (which is where my house is situated, but where I don’t vote) looks like “a hen doing ballet” as Thejaswi Udupa once described it a few years back. Malleswaram, which is next to it in the above grid, looks like a hen sitting down (according to me). Rajarajeshwari Nagar, which covers a huge swathe of land in the Western suburbs looks like a cartoon character. And I won’t say much about Shanthi Nagar (the colour scheme in the graph denotes the population density of the BBMP wards that form the constituency).

The reason we have such weird shapes is because of gerrymandering – lines having been drawn arbitrarily at some point in time to help some incumbent party. These constituencies were used for the first time in the 2008 state elections (following delimitation earlier that year), and they lie along the same lines as BBMP wards (in fact, a given BBMP Ward contributes to only a single constituency).

Have fun with your interpretations!

The Government Should Regulate Cooks

Yet another wedding, yet another truckload of wasted food. If, in reality TV show style, we were to try to identify the “root cause” in this instance, it was the cook (or the team of cooks, rather). Each of the seven respondents this correspondent surveyed expressed their displeasure at the quality of the food. One even called it her “worst ever Indian wedding dinner”.

This wedding was only one isolated instance – it is all too common an occurrence in these parts for copious amounts of food to be wasted all because of a cook who ended up cooking badly. And it is all the fault of the cooks, most of whom have never gone to culinary school (we don’t have too many of those in India), and many of whom haven’t gone to school either.

When thousands of people in India die of hunger everyday, and farmers continue to kill themselves in Vidarbha (and elsewhere), this wastage of food is indeed criminal. It comes at a high human cost. And that it comes out of sheer incompetence of unregulated cooks makes it indeed tragic.

There is only one solution to this – the government should regulate cooks. Not just wedding cooks – since wastage of food at weddings and other parties are only part of the problem – the government should regulate anyone who wants to cook. The other day my daughter refused to eat an idli. We decided to salvage our karma by feeding it (the idli) to the neighbourhood street dog, who took one bite and promptly ran away.

Whether you want to make yourself a 2-minute Maggi, or Shantavva in Santemarahalli wants to make a ragi ball, or chef Madhu Menon (hope he doesn’t edit this bit out) wants to make bloggers’ b***, you should need a licence from the government, which certifies that you are a cook of a high enough quality that what you cook will not go waste.

That’s the only way we can save millions of our population from hunger. There is already enough wastage of food because farmers cannot coordinate on what to grow, and because of inefficiencies in the food supply chain, and because of the way agricultural markets are regulated. We don’t want badly cooked food to add to the wastage. And the only way to ensure that is by having the government regulate cooks.

PS: As Ravikiran Rao, a former editor of the former avatar of this publication, likes to put it, “#thatzwhy we need strong regulation

PS2: Some readers might be advised to consume irony supplements along with this article

EPFO Releases Payroll Data

The Employees Provident Fund Office has, for the first time, released data on payroll enrolment in India. This data shows, by age group, the number of enrolments with the office by month, and this is the first instance that we’re having such data being available.

While it would be easy to start those “data science machines” churning to process this data right away, a closer look suggests a more careful approach.

Screenshot source: Somesh Jha on Twitter https://twitter.com/someshjha7/status/989095752411570176?s=12

Firstly, the data for September 2017 for the 22-25 age group is clearly an error, being an order of magnitude lower than the number for the same age group in all subsequent months. Hopefully this will be corrected in a subsequent release.

Next, what explains the age bands? Why do we have 18-21 and 22-25 (4-year bands) and then a 3 year age band (26-28), and a 7-year age band (29-35)? And why is everyone in the 35+ age group put together into one band?

Then, the note attached to the data release states that this includes temporary employment as well. While the number of enrolments of temporary employees might be low, it would have been far more useful to have that data separately.

Notwithstanding all this, the publication of this data is welcome, since the Indian policy environment is so data-poor that any new data release is welcome! It is fair to expect that these errors will get corrected in time, and this might yet become a great source of data on formal employment in India.


Incels and Tinder Taming

When I read Amit Varma’s post on Incels, I couldn’t help but think of this piece I’d come across while doing research for my book Between the buyer and the seller.

Written by Dustin Silgardo in Man’s World, this piece talks about Incels (yay, now I can use that word!) in India, and how dating apps such as Tinder have suddenly laid (no pun intended) bare the possibility that a large section of Incels in India can’t get dates because nobody wants to date them.

Silgardo writes:

In the online dating world, where men outnumber women by close to three to one, men, thus far protected by the perceived power a patriarchal society heaps upon them, are being forced to face an inconvenient possibility: perhaps they are just not that attractive.

And this:

Indian men, on the other hand, are sheltered from this truth and are cocooned by the promise of a dainty woman served to them on a platter, via an arranged marriage. This complete lack of awareness that Indian men seem to have of their own sex appeal is quite apparent from some profiles on Tinder.

Go read the whole piece. It will give you excellent insight into the world of Indian Incels.

And while you’re at it, read the part of my book where I used this article by Silgardo as well! And hopefully you’ll like that, in which case you might want to read my whole book (tongue in cheek)!