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1 April 2017 Editorial


1 APRIL 2017

The mob's bias

attack on Nigerian in Noida reflects our racial prejudices

The attack on a small group of Africans in Greater Noida, a suburb of the national capital located in Uttar Pradesh, has once again thrown a spotlight on a disturbing trend in the country: mob violence, and specifically the targeting of persons of African origin in many of these instances. What is particularly disturbing and shameful is that the attack took place in a busy shopping mall without a single bystander, shopkeeper or security guard intervening. This has, understandably, touched an anxious chord about their personal safety among the thousands of African nationals who live, work and study in and around Delhi. While the police have made some initial arrests and opened cases against several hundred unnamed persons on charges of rioting in the wake of video footage of the attack going viral, such incidents of racial violence need a stronger response from the administration and civil society. That the attack was ostensibly triggered by accusations that some African students were linked to drug-dealing and were somehow responsible for the death of a local student is no justification for taking the law into one's hands, leave alone indulge in such violence. That the law enforcement machinery and the courts are the only places for seeking redress for any breaches of law cannot be overemphasised. That a mere rumour can trigger such violence is truly alarming.

It is difficult to see this incident in isolation from other instances of discrimination against African nationals who have taken up residence in cities around the country. Last year, the murder of a Congolese student in Delhi compelled African Heads of Mission to threaten a boycott of Africa Day. The message was not lost on anyone that the envoys had been moved to consider such an extreme step just months after New Delhi hosted the Third India-Africa Forum Summit, in October 2015, where they had announced their resolve to "enhance Africa-India relations... based on the principles of mutuality, complementarity and true sense of solidarity as well as the promotion of people to people interactions." In the end, Africa Day went as planned, but the point had been made, that even as India makes abundant effort to deepen ties with the 54 countries of the African Union, this cannot be achieved without understanding and acting upon the aspirations of nationals of these countries. In modern diplomacy, the quality of people-to-people contact is a factor in determining the overall strength of a bilateral relationship. But even as Indian diplomats move to assure African students in Greater Noida about their safety, with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj discussing the matter with U.P. Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath, this issue is not about foreign affairs. It is a reminder of the latent racism in India, of the terrible prejudices too many of us harbour, and of the need for a political and social effort to overcome it.


Connected by air

Udan to tap on India's civil aviation opportunities

Six months from now, 43 cities will be mainstreamed on India's flight connectivity grid, an outcome of the Udan scheme launched to spur regional flights covering distances up to 800 km. These include a dozen airports where limited but irregular flights operate, and as many as 31 destinations that are not connected at all despite the existence of airport facilities. The scale of India's untapped civil aviation opportunities can be gauged by the fact that these constitute less than 10% of India's inactive airports/airstrips - 394 out of 450 are dormant currently. The Udan scheme is a critical component of the national civil aviation policy unveiled last June. It offers viability gap funding to operators to fly smaller aircraft to such airports with a commitment to price tickets for at least half of the seats at ?2,500 for an hour-long flight. In the first round of bids, 11 new or existing airline operators pitched for more than 200 routes. The Centre has approved 27 proposals from five players, adding 128 routes to India's aviation map. The estimate is that this will add 6.5 lakh new seats with a subsidy of ?200 crore.

The most heartening aspect is that these include six proposals for 11 routes that don't seek any subsidy under the scheme, proving there is an untapped economic potential. The benefits for tourist hotspots such as Agra, Shimla, Diu, Pathankot, Mysuru and Jaisalmer - that would now be just a short flight away, replacing cumbersome road or rail journeys - are obvious. But the significant multiplier effects of aviation activity, including new investments and employment creation for the local economies of other destinations could be equally profound. Provided this model is sustainable and more regional flights come up under the scheme, the availability of slots at larger airports that would emerge as hubs could become an issue - particularly at capacity-constrained airports such as Mumbai. The second airport at Navi Mumbai may help ease congestion, but that is still years away. In cities where new airports have been developed, such as Bengaluru, abandoned old facilities could be revived as dedicated terminals for low-cost and regional flights. Separately, new no-frills airports must be encouraged where traffic is expected to hit saturation point in coming years. Recently, four new foreign investors and a few domestic players have expressed interest in managing operations at state-run airports such as Jaipur and Ahmedabad. This marks a revival in investor interest after a long lull. It is time to revisit provisions that offer existing private operators of large airports (burdened by debt) the right of first refusal on any new airport proposed within 150 km. Most interested bidders for the Navi Mumbai airport stayed away over this clause. Last but not the least, this development must start a rethink within the Indian Railways, as it could now lose traffic on some routes.




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