Although airlines in India is recovering faster than in places like Singapore and Hong Kong, the impact of the pandemic is still being felt. No-frills carrier SpiceJet posted a net loss of £5.7 million in the quarter ended Dec. 31 compared with a profit of £7.32 million a year earlier. Now, Ajay Singh, who owned 60 per cent in SpiceJet, has branches out to healthcare and is offering coronavirus screening to passengers for Rs 299. That’s about one-third the current market rate. SpiceHealth, the unit selling the tests, has also set up mobile-testing facilities for the general public in Mumbai and New Delhi, where starting from Rs 499, people can come in or have a sample collected from their home.
Within months, the group had extended its reach across India, even providing the testing in April for some of the millions of pilgrims who joined the annual Kumbh Mela. Singh’s diversification from the loss-making airline sector into healthcare underscores how some of India’s biggest tycoons have managed to prosper, even during the pandemic. Tushar Srivastava, head of communications for SpiceJet and SpiceHealth, said “no favours were sought or provided” by the government to the group’s businesses.
Singh served as a close aide to Pramod Mahajan, the former telecom minister and fundraiser for the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, who was murdered by his brother in 2006. He is close to the ruling party that BJP leaders often appear at Singh’s events. Modi inaugurated the launch of SpiceJet’s seaplane service in October. A month later, Amit Shah appeared at the opening of SpiceHealth’s first mobile testing lab.
Run by his 24-year-old daughter Avani Singh, SpiceHealth, a separate company from SpiceJet, operates 15 mobile laboratories across the country that each have a daily capacity of 3,000 tests. SpiceHealth has set up a genomic sequencing facility in Delhi’s international airport and Avani has spoken about moving into vaccine procurement and distribution.