Sindhu is on course to become India’s greatest woman athlete ever
P.V. Sindhu’s victory at the badminton World Championships ought to be regarded as one of the finest achievements in the history of Indian sport. No Indian shuttler had claimed the World title before; certainly no one after Prakash Padukone and P. Gopichand came close to matching their All-England wins. With her brutal 38-minute dismantling of Nozomi Okuhara in Basel, Sindhu has broken new ground. After a string of losses in major finals, including the 2016 Olympic Games, the 2017 and 2018 World Championships, and the 2018 Commonwealth and Asian Games, Sindhu’s big-game temperament had been questioned, even if unfairly. Those doubts have now been answered emphatically. Two years ago, Sindhu had lost to Okuhara in heartbreaking fashion at the same juncture; this time, Sindhu battered her Japanese rival. The 24-year-old from Hyderabad showcased some ferocious hitting, her 21-7, 21-7 win the most resounding margin in the women’s singles final at the Worlds since the 21-point format was adopted in 2006. Indeed, Sindhu was in tremendous form throughout the Championships, dropping only one game — to old foe Tai Tzu-Ying in the quarterfinals — over the entire week. That win over Tzu-Ying, from a game down, seemed a turning point; in the semi-finals, World No. 3 Chen Yufei was simply tossed aside.
The World Championships triumph now augurs well for Sindhu’s chances of winning gold at the 2020 Olympic Games. It is something no Indian badminton player — male or female — has managed. Of course, it cannot be taken for granted, for the women’s field is remarkably strong; nor should Sindhu be put under pressure to deliver that gold medal. But there is no reason she should not be able to finish on top of the podium in Tokyo, or indeed become the dominant figure in women’s badminton as she enters what is expected to be the peak period of her career.
Sindhu’s World Championships success will, it is hoped, also have a galvanising effect on women’s badminton in the country. Outside Sindhu and Saina Nehwal, the country does not have any woman shuttler in the top 60 of the BWF World rankings (for week 34); a new generation of talent has to break through. In contrast, there are seven Indian men’s singles players in the top 41.
Among them is B. Sai Praneeth, who reached the semifinals in Basel to become the first Indian man to clinch a singles medal at the Worlds in 36 years. Gopichand, India’s chief national coach, deserves enormous credit for the country’s rise as a force in world badminton. Sindhu is his most successful protégé; she is well on the path to becoming the greatest woman athlete India has produced.
Earth’s burning lungs
Brazil’s attitude to the destruction of large areas of the Amazon rainforest is worrying
The Amazon rainforest, the largest of its kind in the world, is ablaze, with over 9,500 distinct fires burning through its main basin since August 15. Overall, Brazil has seen more than 76,000 fires ravage the Amazon in 2019, of which around 10,000 have been started in the past few weeks, mainly by loggers and farmers seeking, as they do during the summer months, to clear vast tracts for agricultural or industrial use. However, this annual exercise of planned deforestation appears to have crossed a tipping point this year. There has been an increase of at least 80% in the number of recorded fires compared to the same period in 2018, according to Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE). This week, images of darkening skies above Sao Paulo, more than 2,700 km away from the fires, went viral. The number and intensity of the fires are closely linked to the rate of deforestation. Some reports estimate that in July 2019, the Amazon shrunk by 1,345 sq km, up 39% from the same month last year, and a historical record. The flames are not confined just to Brazil either. In neighbouring Bolivia, deadly blazes are devastating forests and farmlands, so much so, that its President, Evo Morales, has put his re-election campaign on hold over the weekend, and, unlike his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, was quick to welcome foreign aid to help fight the fires.
The distinctly political undertones of the crisis in Brazil sets it apart. Mr. Bolsonaro’s critics say that his economic and environmental policies have virtually set the stage for intensifying degradation of the Amazon’s rich biodiversity. They argue that since he came to power this year, he has chipped away at the protections that the rainforest enjoyed, including by weakening the environment ministry when he made Ricardo Salles, found guilty of administrative improprieties for altering a map to benefit mining companies, the Environment Minister; by driving away Norway and Germany, principal donors who have backed protections for the Amazon; by sacking the head INPE over absurd allegations that he was disclosing how rapidly Amazon deforestation was happening; and by attacking both environmental charities, alleging without proof that they started fires to serve certain foreign interests, and indigenous Amazon dwellers. Under intense global pressure, including from the ongoing G-7 meetings of world leaders, Mr. Bolsonaro, a right-wing climate-change sceptic, appears to have relented to an extent, and has authorized 44,000 military troops to help with the firefighting efforts. Even if they succeed, and the Bolsonaro administration ultimately bends to global outrage over the destruction of a critical global ecosystem, the discernible shift in Brazilian public institutions responsible for guarding the future of the Amazon rainforest is a worrying sign of worse things to come.
This was the judgment that allowed the suspension of the writ of habeas corpus during Emergency.
Some of the points made were: “In period of public danger of apprehension, the protective law which gives every man security and confidence in times of tranquillity has to give way to interest of the State.” (CJI A.N. Ray); Enforceability, as an attribute of a legal right, and the power of the judicial organs of the State to enforce the right, are exclusively for the State, as the legal instrument of Society, to confer or take away in the legally authorized manner.” (Justice Beg); “Personal liberty is but one of the Fundamental Rights... therefore the suspension of the right to enforce the right conferred by Article 21 means and implies the suspension of the right to file a habeas corpus petition or to take any other proceeding to enforce the right to personal liberty conferred by Article 21.” (Justice Y.V. Chandrachud); “The Constitution... if it says that even if a person is detained otherwise than in accordance with the law, he shall not be entitled to enforce his right of personal liberty, whilst a Presidential order under Article 359, clause (1) specifying Article 21 is in force I have to give effect to it.” (Justice Bhagwati).
This was an anti-constitutional and anti-people decision. But in the true spirit of Rabindranath Tagore’s words, Justice Khanna held: “If they answer not to your call, walk alone.
“But Article 21 cannot be considered to be the sole repository of the right to life and personal liberty. The right to life and personal liberty is the most precious right of human beings in civilised societies....”
Justice Khanna said, “The cases before us raise questions of utmost importance and gravity, questions which impinge not only upon the scope of the different constitutional provisions, but have impact also upon the basic, values affecting life, liberty and the rule of law... What is at stake is the rule of law. If it could be the boast of a great English judge that the air of England is too pure for a slave to breathe, cannot we also say that this sacred land shall not suffer an eclipse of the rule of law and that the Constitution and Indian laws do not permit life and liberty to be at the mercy of absolute power of the executive, a power against which there can be no redress in courts of law?
Even if it chooses to act contrary to law or in an arbitrary and capricious manner... The question is whether the laws speaking through the authority of the courts shall be absolutely silenced and rendered mute because of such threat.
” Article 359 in The Constitution Of India 1949
Suspension of the enforcement of the rights conferred by Part III during emergencies(1) Where a Proclamation of Emergency is in operation, the President may by order declare that the right to move any court for the enforcement of such of the rights conferred by Part III (except Article 20 and 21) as may be mentioned in the order and all proceedings pending in any court for the enforcement of the rights so mentioned shall remain suspended for the period during which the Proclamation is in force or for such shorter period as may be specified in the order(1A) While an order made under clause ( 1 ) mentioning any of the rights conferred by Part III (except Article 20 and 21) is in operation, nothing in that Part conferring those rights shall restrict the power of the State as defined in the said Part to make any law or to take any executive action which the State would but for the provisions containing in that Part be competent to make or to take, but any law so made shall, to the extent of the in competency, cease to have effect as soon as the order aforesaid ceases to operate, except as respects things done or omitted to be done before the law so ceases to have effect Provided that where a Proclamation of Emergency is in operation only in any part of the territory of India, any such law may be made, or any such executive action may be taken, under this article in relation to or in any State or Union territory in which or in any part of which the Proclamation of Emergency is not in operation, if and in so far as the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened by activities in or in relation to the part of the territory of India in which the Proclamation of Emergency is in operation (1B) Nothing in clause ( 1A ) shall apply (a) to any law which does not contain a recital to the effect that such law is in relation to the Proclamation of Emergency in operation when it is made; or (b) to any executive action taken otherwise than under a law containing such a recital (2) An order made as aforesaid may extend to the whole or any part of the territory of India: Provided that where a Proclamation of Emergency is in operation only in a part of the territory of India, any such order shall not extend to any other part of the territory of India unless the President, being satisfied that the security of India or any part of the territory thereof is threatened by activities in or in relation to the part of the territory of India in which the Proclamation of Emergency is in operation, considers such extension to be necessary (3) Every order made under clause ( 1 ) shall, as soon may be after it is made, be laid before each House of Parliament
Civil aviation is a Central subject and one that barely got significant attention from the States until recently. It is evident from the fact that very few States in India have active civil aviation departments. This is also due to the reason that States have had a passive role, invariably, having had to look up to the Central government for the development of airports and enhancing air connectivity. However, in the last four years, the situation has changed considerably.
The cooperation of States is seen as a major factor in the growth of the civil aviation sector. The Regional Connectivity Scheme, UdeDeshkaAamNaagrik (UDAN), has become a game changer as this flagship programme has a built-in mechanism to develop stakes of State governments in the growth of the sector.
Key policy interventions
Thirty States and Union Territories have already signed memoranda of understanding with the Central government. The policies of States and Centre are now being interlinked to make flying accessible and affordable. Governments are poised for the growth as they have the potential to strengthen their partnership under the cooperative federalism framework to provide the required impetus to the sector. Here are some policy intervention suggestions to jump-start the aviation market.
For any airline in India, the cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) forms about 40% of the total operational cost. Keeping petroleum products out of the purview of Goods and Services Tax (GST) may be a policy imperative for the State governments but this is a step that adversely impacts the expansion of air services to the States. States have very high rates of value-added tax (VAT) on ATF — sometimes as high as 25% — which has dampened the growth trajectory of civil aviation. ATF is a small component of overall petroleum products and deserves to be treated separately.
The airline industry is capital-intensive and works on very thin profit margins. Therefore, relief on ATF is a major incentive for airlines to augment their operations. For States, it would be a notional revenue loss which can be offset by enhanced economic activities as a result of increased air connectivity to the region. An International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) study has shown that the output multiplier and employment multiplier of civil aviation are 3.25 and 6.10, respectively. Empirically, this has been proved in many airports within India where the connectivity has changed the economic landscape in a positive way.
Pending the decision on ATF at the GST Council where States are the major stakeholders, UDAN has motivated State governments to reduce the VAT on ATF to 1% for the flights that are operated under this scheme. Airports such as Jharsuguda (Odisha) and Kolhapur (Maharashtra) have successfully attracted airlines to connect these hitherto unconnected regions. Reducing VAT on ATF is the biggest lever States can operate, which will enable them in being an equal partner in steering sector policy.
The second area is in the development and management of airports. There are many regional airports which can be developed by States on their own or in collaboration with the Airports Authority of India (AAI). In this, there have been different models of public-private-partnership which can be leveraged to develop infrastructures. Land involves huge capital and is a scarce resource. Innovative models can be explored to create viable ‘no-frill airports’. These functional airports can open up regions and change the way people travel. India had about 70 airports since Independence until recently. Under UDAN, the Union government, with the help of the States, has operationalized 24 unserved airports over the past two years; 100 more are to be developed in the next five years, which can only be achieved through the active collaboration between willing States and the Centre.
Linking the hinterland
Third, States and the Central government can play a crucial role in supporting airlines to develop air services in the remote regions. To reduce operational cost of airlines and airport operators, incentives from State governments have been sought: some in the form of financial support such as VAT reduction; sharing of viability gap funding with airlines, and non-financial incentives such as providing security and fire services free of cost to airport operators. Similarly, under the scheme, the Union government has declared concessions on excise duty on ATF and made budgetary allocations for airport development. This unique scheme has been successful in encouraging airlines to operate on regional unconnected routes instead of trunk routes. Market appetite and aspirations of remote areas can match the plans of airlines where States play a catalytic role. Under UDAN, some success stories have motivated States to announce innovative approaches and policies in support of airlines.
However, to attract airlines from regional to remote connectivity, further interventions are necessary. Considering the infrastructural constraints and difficult terrain, small aircraft operators need to be encouraged. Many a time, policy reluctance is observed considering the financial non-viability of the models to connect remote areas using smaller aircraft and helicopters. But air connectivity to these difficult regions is indispensable.
Areas which cannot be connected meaningfully by road or rail have to be linked by air. No doubt, they will be cost-effective if the economic analysis is factored-in. For example, travel from Dehradun to Pithoragarh (both in Uttarakhand) by road takes 16 hours and communication is almost cut-off in the rainy season. Air connectivity would not only bring down travel time but also be a boon in emergencies. This is also true for northeast India, the islands and also hilly States.
Convergence is an element in governance which is often overlooked due to a compartmentalization in implementation. States may converge their relevant schemes relating to tourism, health, and insurance for supporting air connectivity to supplement the objectives of regional connectivity.
Currently the penetration of the aviation market in India stands at 7%. There is potential to be among the global top three nations in terms of domestic and international passenger traffic. For this States need to create a conducive business environment to facilitate the strong aspirations of a burgeoning Indian middle class to fly at least once a year. It would boost ticket sales from the present level of eight crore domestic tickets.
Developing airports, incentivizing airlines and pooling resources of both the Union and State governments can accelerate the harmonized growth of the Indian civil aviation sector which would be equitable and inclusive.
As the economy begins to suffer from the U.S.-China trade war, it is imperative for India to pursue a free trade agreement (FTA) with the European Union (EU). Last month, negotiators from both sides met in Brussels, for more talks about talks, but time is now running out for New Delhi.
Moving beyond the U.S. and China, this is the right time for India to engage the EU as an indispensable democratic partner to craft a favourable geo-economic order. A series of economic and geo-strategic factors make the need for an economic deal with the EU more urgent.
First, India risks being left behind amidst a collapsing global trade architecture, rising protectionism and a new emphasis on bilateral FTAs. India is the only major power lacking an FTA with any of its top trade partners, including the EU, the U.S., China and Gulf economies. This situation is not tenable as most trade is now driven either by FTAs or global value chains.
The EU’s revived focus on FTAs could only exacerbate this risk for India. In June, Brussels concluded a trade deal with Vietnam and a historic FTA with the Mercorsur countries in South America. India, in the meantime, is hanging on to its Most Favoured Nation (MFN) status. Its status under the EU’s Generalised Scheme of Preferences (GSP) will face rising competition from Pakistan or Sri Lanka, who enjoy GSP+ benefits.
Stuck in a ‘grey zone’
Stuck in a ‘grey zone’, without preferential FTA tariffs or GSP+ status, India will struggle to keep exports competitive for Europe, its largest trade partner where 20% of its exports land up.
The good news here is that India’s talks with the EU have been advancing slowly but steadily. From agriculture to intellectual property, the EU and India have quietly been exchanging and aligning views. New areas like e-commerce have registered significant convergence because India’s position on data privacy is not that different from the EU’s. As with the EU-Japan deal, India may wish to proceed at two speeds: it could delay discussions about free flow of data for a few years and freeze differences on the tax moratorium issue or data localization, even while committing to liberalise in other areas.
Second, beyond mere economic cost-benefit analysis, India must also approach an EU FTA from a geostrategic perspective. With Mr. Trump’s hostile spotlight focusing on India, and lingering concerns about the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, New Delhi must realise the long-term strategic benefits of a trade deal with Europe.
EU negotiators are now more willing to make concessions on labour or environmental regulations, which used to be insurmountable obstacles. The collapse of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership and concerns about excessive economic reliance on China have propelled the EU to become a little more pragmatic, which New Delhi should leverage before it’s too late.
The EU also offers India a unique regulatory model that balances growth, privacy and standards. India’s governance framework shares the European norms of democratic transparency and multi-stakeholder participation on a variety of new technological domains, from regulating artificial intelligence to 5G networks. New Delhi must see this as a strategic premium that is not accounted for in a strict cost-benefit economic analysis.
When New Delhi speaks of Europe as a strategic partner to uphold a multipolar order, it must go beyond security and begin with the business of trade and technology.