A Diwali that is bright for some, dim for others

Written by Vaishnavi Bala | Updated: Nov 12 2012, 02:28am hrs
We examine the booms and busts through the eyes of employees in the retail and aviation sectors

The brightness this Diwali is not just a metaphor for 26-year-old Ajay Prasad, an employee at Mumbai's Oberoi mall in Goregaon suburb. He expects his salary to rise by almost half if he starts working with a foreign retail player, expected to enter the country following approval in FDI in multi-brand retail. There is great excitement among all of us about foreign firms coming here and setting up stores. Our careers will be on a better path, he says.

Though there may be structural issues at the macro level regarding implementation of FDI in multi-brand retail, there is visible cheer among all those connected with the retail sector. The foremost hope is for more and better job opportunities. An average employee at the low level today earns about R8,000 per month, which is expected to go up by almost 50% with foreign players coming in.

Some like Vikas Gupte, an employee with a retail chain store in Phoenix Mills, hope for even more. I am hoping that with more companies setting up shop, the nature of our work will also change. Right now, I help customers with their purchases, but once big companies enter, I can go in for office or back-end work, he says. Most employees at retail stores view FDI as something that would give greater purpose to their jobs, better job opportunities, career growth and salaries.

With approval in FDI in multi-brand retail, the Indian retail market is set for an explosion and experts estimate FDI might bring in as much as $10 billion in the next five years.

For every 100 square feet of space that we add, we will create at least two direct and three indirect jobs, says Kishore Biyani, founder and group chief executive officer of Future Group, India's largest retailer.

Shoppers Stop's managing director Govind Shrikhande echoes Biyanis view. Infrastructure and investment in the sector would go a long way to bolster the Indian market, he says.

In complete contrast, Capt Ajay Kumar, a pilot with Kingfisher Airlines for the past seven years, has no plans for this Diwali. Or, more aptly, he cannot afford to plan for any festivities. With no salaries for the past eight months, my finances are completely haywire. All my savings and the two months salary that I received recently have been utilised to meet loans and daily expenses. I cannot afford gifts for my friends and family anymore, says Kumar.

Incidentally, the government cleared a proposal for FDI in aviation simultaneously with that in retail. But if the retail sector is euphoric this festive season, there is no such cheer in aviation. The decision was likely to bring a much-needed breather to local airlines struggling hard to narrow down their losses. However, the move has brought no such relief for Kingfisher. Even after the Diageo deal, things remain uncertain for the airlines. This leaves its staff facing an uncertain future and a gloomy Diwali. Most employees have already cut down on their shopping and outings as a result of not getting salaries. I never thought the situation would be so bad that I would have to think before buying Diwali gifts for family. This Diwali is a black one for us. Beside finances, we are facing an uncertain future. We don't know whether they (the airline) will actually resume operations and to what extent, says Capt Ravi Raheja, a pilot who has been with the airline for six years. However, what these people share with their peers in the retail sector is hopethat things will be better next year. As Reena Singh, a 23-year-old Kingfisher cabin crew member for the last two years, says, I am hoping that next year would be happy and prosperous again.

(Names of Kingfisher employees have been changed on request)