The Indian airline boss is escalating the pandemic by overseeing healthcare


Indian airline tycoon Ajay Singh has little experience in physical health but in November, as the country was infested with coronavirus, he suddenly went to test Covid-19 and after genomic sequencing.

Known for his close connection with Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister – he was credited with creating the 2014 election slogan “This time, Modi’s government” – Singh launched SpiceHealth, vowing to carry out the tests which is cheaper, easier and more usable.

For several months, the group extended them all over the country, even giving a try to the several million pilgrims who participated in the annual Kumbh Mela, the largest religious gathering in the country. which was later seen to be a most prevalent activity.

Singh’s rapid mainstay from the loss-making airline sector to healthcare underscores how some of India’s largest tacos have been able to thrive, even during the pandemic.

India is one of the countries most hit by Covid-19, with more than 28m cases and 335,000 deaths, most of which occurred in the catastrophic second wave this year.

Even before the most recent outbreak, SpiceJet, in which Singh has a 60 per cent stake, was recovering from a national lockdown last year. The airline has reported losses over the past four quarters and has cut the salaries of some staff for several weeks.

In February, its auditors Walker Chandiok & Co said there was “material uncertainty” over SpiceJet’s ability to continue as a growing concern. Its losses could have been even wider if it had not been accompanied by the expected payment from Boeing for the launch of the 737 Max aircraft.

“We don’t understand how they will survive,” said an executive at a rival airline.

Jitender Bhargava, former executive director of Air India, praised Singh for his management of SpiceJet, which saved it seven years ago when it was about to go bankrupt and moved quickly to take over rival Jet Airways ’plane after it crashed in 2019.

He has done well, but when it comes to finances, how many airlines have cash reserves. How long can our second wave last? ”Bhargava said.

Even industry executives and analysts say Singh is an opportunist who is likely to get into trouble.

“India’s flight is drowning but Ajay will survive,” said Neelam Mathews, a New Delhi flight analyst.

Tushar Srivastava, head of communications for SpiceJet and SpiceHealth, said the government “did not favor or demand” the group’s businesses.

SpiceJet, under Singh’s control and management, paid off all debts necessary to keep the airline afloat in 2014 and no financial assistance or waivers were provided by the government.

335,000

Covid-19 death toll in India

Singh is not from one of India’s established business families, such as Tatas, whose group spans sectors from steel to software, or the Ambanis, the dynasty behind Reliance Industries, which dominates petrochemicals. and retail.

Observers viewed Singh, who made his masters of business management at Cornell University, as a technocrat who controlled the world of business and politics.

“A person who can communicate on both sides of the aisle, the political and the money, is a wonderful animal,” said Rohit Chandra, assistant professor of public policy at the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi.

Singh served as a close aide to Pramod Mahajan, the former telecoms and fundraiser minister for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, who was assassinated by his brother in 2006.

He is so close to the ruling party that BJP leaders always show up at Singh’s events. Modi inaugurated the launch of SpiceJet’s seaplane service in October. A month later, Amit Shah, India’s home affairs minister and one of Modi’s closest lieutenants, showed up at the opening of SpiceHealth’s first mobile testing lab, a public-private partnership with the leading clinical research body in the country.

Whatever his connections, Singh’s time in the healthcare transition has proven to be promising, coming before the start of the year it brought air travel to an almost halt for the second time.

Run by his 24-year-old daughter Avani Singh, SpiceHealth, a separate company from SpiceJet, operates 15 mobile laboratories across the country each with a daily capacity of 3,000 tests. . SpiceHealth has set up a genomic sequencing facility at the international airport in Delhi and Avani spoke about shifting the procurement and distribution of the vaccine.

SpiceHealth was launched using Singh’s personal money. The company began rapid trials then sprung up with other products, including the sale of “SpiceOxy”, a ventilation device.

The Spice group of companies carried 34m Covid-19 vaccines nationwide between January and April. During the second wave, they delivered thousands of oxygen concentrators from Beijing, Nanjing, Wuhan and Hong Kong to India to alleviate gas shortages.

Avani Singh, chief executive of SpiceHealth, left, and his father Ajay Singh, owner of SpiceJet, the group’s genome sequencing laboratory at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi.

Avani Singh, chief executive of SpiceHealth, left, and his father Ajay Singh, owner of SpiceJet, the group’s genome sequencing laboratory at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi © T. Narayan / Bloomberg

Unsatisfied with his improving health and apparently unaffected by SpiceJet’s problems, Singh showed his willingness to strengthen his commitment to India’s shattered airline industry.

In March, he was included on the list as a bidder for Air India, the state-owned monolith that New Delhi has been trying to privatize for years. If he succeeds, a buyer is set to announce later this year, Singh will have to take out a staggering $ 3.3bn debt.

“You have to give it to Ajay Singh, one thing that cannot be denied to him is that he is a man who takes advantage of opportunities,” Bhargava said.



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