How does Kalanithi Maran’s wife Kaveri sleep peacefully when 73 families can’t?

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In the voyeuristic relish with which India’s business media salivates over the obscene salaries of its top dogs, the names of Kalanithi Maran and his wife Kaveri Kalanithi have assumed nearly pornographic proportions.

The man in question (left, above) is the son of Murasoli Maran, commerce minister in the NDA government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee.

Using his powerful DMK connections (DMK supremo M.Karunanidhi is his uncle; brother Dayanidhi Maran was telecom minister in the Manmohan Singh cabinet), Kalanithi built and expanded the Sun TV network into a regional television behemoth.

Kalanithi, 52, has been ranked among the 500 richest people in the world. His current net worth is estimated at over $4.1 billion: about Rs 27,470 crore.

The woman in question (right, above) is his wife of Karnataka origin.

Born to Jammada Belliappa and Neena Belliappa of Gonikoppa in Coorg, the former insurance executive is now the executive director of the Sun TV group, which comprises 33 channels in four languages and claims to reach about 10 crore viewers every day

In 2011, the Marans earned Rs 72 crore each. Total: Rs 144 crore.

In 2012: they earned Rs 57 crore each. Total: Rs 114 crore.

In 2013: they earned Rs 59.89 crore each. Total: Rs 119.78 crore.

In 2014: they earned Rs 61 crore each. Total: Rs 122 crore.

In 2015: they earned over Rs 71 crore each. Total: Rs 142.8 crore.

In short, in just the last five years, not including the 2016-17 fiscal, Mr and Mrs Maran have taken home Rs 642.58 crore in pay packages.

These pay packages typically include salary, perquisites, profit-linked incentives or commissions and other benefits.

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In addition, the Marans, who are promoters of the stock market-listed Sun TV group, holding roughly 75 per cent of the shares, receive handsome dividends.

Sun TV has been consistently profitable among India’s media companies.

With a market cap of over Rs 28,000 crore, its share is currently valued at over Rs 700 each. Its total assets is valued at Rs 3,511 crore, second only to Zee Network.

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As the graph above, from moneycontrol.com shows, in the last five years, the group has been consistently in the black.

2012: net profit Rs 682.83 crore.

2013: net profit Rs 704.15 crore.

2014: net profit Rs 745.22 crore.

2015: ne profit Rs 782.59 crore.

2016: net profit Rs 920.16 crore.

In short, in just the last five years, the group has netted profits of Rs 3,834.95 crore.

Or more.

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Two days ago, the Sun TV network sent a letter to the social welfare and labour departments of the government of Karnataka under the industrial disputes act.

“We have decided to close ‘Udaya News’ with effect from 24th October 2017 for reasons explained in Annexure,” was the operative part.

That annexure is below:

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Signed by S.D. Jawahar Michael, vice-president, HR, the notice blithely stated that the number of workmen whose services would be terminated on account of the closure of ‘Udaya News’ was 73.

Note the operative words in the annexure:

# “We have made substantial investments in building the news business”

# “Despite our best efforts, the news business has been incurring substantial losses”

# “We are not able to justify the insurmountable losses which has been accumulated

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These are bogus claims that anybody who has watched, worked in or entered the “studios” of ‘Udaya News’ will affirm.

As it is, the launch of the channel, when the Kannada matinee idol Dr Raj Kumar, was kidnapped by the forest brigand Veerappan in 2000, was a hurried after-thought.

Since then up until now, the channel has been a low-grade, sub-standard, garage operation remarkable for the abysmal levels of quality of production and broadcast from day one.

Professionalism is not the first word that comes to mind when you think of ‘Udaya News’ and some of its staff do not boast of the most glowing reputations.

Insiders say the operating expenses of ‘Udaya News’ even at its peak was no more than Rs 25 lakh per month, the annual outgo a mere Rs 3 crore.

The wage bill for the 73 employees was a measly Rs 13 lakh per month, the highest paid among them earning no more than Rs 40,000 per month.

Contrast these numbers with Kalanithi and Kaveri’s—and the Sun TV group’s.

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There is no doubt that every private company enjoys the right to make decisions as it deems fit but the impending closure of ‘Udaya News’ for the reasons trotted out is a travesty calling for intervention because of the sheer injustice of it all.

The fate of 73 employees—and their families—is on the line.

Inside sources say Udaya News earns between Rs 35 lakh and Rs 40 lakh per month and sometimes even more in spite of the fact that the channel is never marketed or promoted independently.

In fact, for manpower, content, software and equipment, ‘Udaya News’ has depended on second-hand or borrowed facilities from the flagship ‘Udaya’ channel.

In recent months, not just newspapers for the newsroom, even drinking water had been curtailed in the name of cost-cutting.

In other words, as opposed to Sun TV’s gratuitous claims:

# There have been no “substantial investments” in ‘Udaya News’;

# It has not made the “best efforts” to keep it alive or face the competition;

# The accumulated losses are far from “insurmountable” for a group of this size.

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Which brings us to the key question: how does Kaveri Kalanithi, as a daughter of Karnataka, preside over this perfidy?

The fate of the Kannada news channel is not unique.

Three months ago, the 178 employees of the Sun TV group’s Malayalam network, Surya, went on strike. Among the extraordinary charges they levelled was that they had received annual pay hikes ranging from Rs 12 to Rs 172!

Contrast these numbers again with Kalanithi and Kaveri’s—and the Sun TV group’s.

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In the past, at least one proxy advisory company has raised questions over the quantum of renumeration received by Kaveri Kalanithi in comparison with other executives.

“The ratio of promoter’s salary to other directors was a mind-boggling 77,000 for non-independent directors and 25,700 for independent directors in 2014-15,” the proxy advisory firm SES said, comparing the pay practice to British-era discrimination

“One can only imagine how small other board members must be feeling in front of two promoter-directors, whose capability and contribution is almost 77,000 times that of the other Board members.

“Such capable people till now were found only in religious story books – not in boardrooms. The Marans have made imagination a reality.”

As ‘Udaya News’ employees face the chopping block, and as rumours swirl around of ‘Gemini News’ employees being next, corporate India’s ugliest face is on view—and it is not a pretty picture.

Is there only one Narayana Murthy in this country?

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Equally important, which smart media owner shuts down a news operation in an election year, when the prospect of political advertising looms?

Is there more to the ‘Udaya News’ closure than meets the eye?