The HINDU Notes – 27th August 2019 - VISION

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Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The HINDU Notes – 27th August 2019

📰 PM rejects scope for third party mediation in Kashmir

Trump: Discussed issue with Modi — India, Pakistan can resolve it on their own

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday categorically rejected any scope for third party mediation between India and Pakistan on Kashmir, saying the two countries can discuss and resolve all issues bilaterally and “we don’t want to trouble any third country.” 

•Mr. Modi made these remarks while interacting with the media alongside U.S. President Donald Trump, who ahead of his meeting with the Prime Minister had said that he will discuss the Kashmir issue with him on the sidelines of the G7 summit in the French town of Biarritz.

•Mr. Trump in the recent past has offered mediation between India and Pakistan on the Kashmir issue.

•“All the issues between India and Pakistan are bilateral in nature, and we don’t want to trouble any third country. We can discuss and resolve these issues bilaterally,” Mr. Modi said.

•He said India and Pakistan were together before 1947 and he was confident that the two neighbours can discuss their problems and solve them.

•“When I had called Prime Minister Khan after the elections, I told him that Pakistan has to fight against poverty, India has to also fight against it. Pakistan has to fight against illiteracy and disease, and India has to also fight against them...I told him we should work together for the welfare of our people,” he said.

•On his part, Mr. Trump said he and Mr. Modi spoke about Kashmir “at great length” on Sunday night and he feels that both India and Pakistan can resolve it on their own.

•“We spoke about Kashmir, the Prime Minister really feels he has it [situation] under control. They speak with Pakistan and I’m sure that they will be able to do something that will be very good,” Mr. Trump said.

•“I have very good relationship with both the gentlemen [Modi and Khan] and I’m here. I think they can do it [resolve the issue] themselves,” he added.

•“We are talking about trade, we’re talking about military and many different things. We had some great discussions, we were together for dinner & I learned a lot about India,” the U.S. President said. Mr. Modi also thanked Mr. Trump for congratulating him after his recent election victory.

•Their meeting came against the backdrop of the Indian government revoking the special status to Jammu and Kashmir and bifurcating the State into two Union Territories on August 5.

•Tensions between India and Pakistan spiked after India abrogated provisions of Article 370 of the Constitution, evoking strong reactions from Pakistan. 

•India has categorically told the international community that the scrapping of Article 370 was an internal matter and also advised Pakistan to accept the reality.

•Briefing reporters after the talks between Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said the two leaders had a “very warm, very positive meeting” which lasted 40 minutes. 

•This was their third interaction since Prime Minister Modi was re-elected in May this year for a second five-year term.

•Asked about the discussion on the Kashmir issue during the talks, the Foreign Secretary said there was “no discussion” on it during the bilateral meeting.

•To another question, Mr. Gokhale said India had not taken any steps to harm regional stability. “Normalcy is returning to Jammu and Kashmir,” he said, adding that certain restrictions will remain in place in the State to maintain law and order.

•“Their meeting principally focussed on trade and energy,” Mr. Gokhale said.

📰 Plea in Supreme Court seeks online RTI portals in States

Only Maharashtra and Delhi have set up systems for e-filing

•The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Centre and 25 States to respond to a writ petition for a direction to establish Right to Information (RTI) web portals across all States to enable citizens, especially those living abroad, to file RTI applications online.

•A Bench led by Justice N.V. Ramana issued notice on the petition filed by the Pravasi Legal Cell, represented by senior advocate Sanjay Hegde, saying that none of the States except Delhi and Maharashtra, had set up RTI portals.

•The Central government established an online RTI portal whereby any Indian citizen, including Non-Residential Indians (NRIs), can apply for information under the RTI Act with the desired Ministry or Department under the Central government. An applicant can also pay the requisite fee through online payment in this portal and submit the RTI application, the petition said.

•The Centre had also requested, via a letter dated December 13, 2013, the various State governments to explore the feasibility of implementing online RTI portals. It had even offered to provide technical support for this purpose through the National Informatics Centre (NIC) to the States.

•“However, only the States of Maharashtra and Delhi have established their respective online portals for obtaining information from the departments of their respective governments,” the petition pointed out.

•It said that a person seeking information under the RTI Act of 2005 from any State department, is compelled to make a physical application. This has become difficult for NRIs.

•“The provision of an online web portal will help the Indian citizens, including the Non-Resident Indians by speedy dissemination of information requested, which in turn would only help in achieving the aim of the RTI laws of bringing transparency in administration,” the petition said.

•It reminded the court of Section 7(1) of the 2005 ACT which provides for disclosure of information if it concerns the life or liberty of a person. Such dissemination of the information would be easier sought through an online application, the petition said.

📰 G7 Summit: signs of hope as Donald Trump says U.S.-China trade talks are on

‘Beijing called last night... said let’s get back to the table’

•There were signs of a thaw in trade-war tensions between China and the U.S. on Monday as President Donald Trump said delegations would “very shortly” resume talks and Beijing’s top negotiator called for “calm”.

•The two sides have been embroiled in a bruising year-long dispute that has seen tariffs slapped on billions of dollars worth of goods in two-way trade, with the row escalating over the weekend.

•But just three days after the announcement of further mutual tariff hikes, Mr. Trump told reporters at the G7 summit in France’s Biarritz that there had been two “very, very good” phone calls from “high-level” Chinese officials.

•“China called last night... said let’s get back to the table. So we’ll be getting back to the table,” he said on Monday, adding that “they want to make a deal”.

•He later said talks with China were “more meaningful than at any time” because the United States was doing well while China was “losing millions of jobs”.

•Mr. Trump’s comments followed moves by China’s most powerful trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, to take the edge off the soaring tensions.

•“We are willing to solve the problem through consultation and cooperation with a calm attitude,” said Mr. Liu, according to a report by Chinese news outlet Caixin.

•“We firmly oppose the escalation of the trade war,” he said, speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2019 Smart China Expo in the southwestern city of Chongqing.

•Mr. Trump later said “calm” was “very good word to use. It’s not a word I use often.”

•The U.S. president also insisted the calls were at “the highest levels”. “The vice premier is low level? I don’t think so,” he said, seemingly referring to Mr. Liu.

•U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin travelled to Shanghai in July for a round of trade talks, where discussions were described as “constructive” but ended with no announcements.

📰 Time to strike the gavel

The judiciary needs to dispel the perception that its standing as the guardian of constitutional rights is faltering

•The biggest blow to the people of India was delivered by the Supreme Court of India on April 28, 1976. five-member Constitution Bench (the Chief Justice of India, A.N. Ray, and Justices H.R. Khanna, M. Hameedullah Beg, Y.V. Chandrachud and P.N. Bhagwati) delivered its judgment in the Additional District Magistrate, ... vs. S.S. Shukla Etc. Etc. The scars it inflicted on the Constitution, constitutional morality and constitutionalism are deep.

Emergency formulation

•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 authorised 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.”

Rights in Kashmir

•That was during the Emergency. Today, there is no Emergency, yet the constitutional and basic rights of scores have been suspended in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). Worse, the Supreme Court has virtually taken away their constitutional remedy to enforce those rights. Regrettably, the court has treated habeas corpus petitions in a most casual manner by justifying negation of the rule of law. Two episodes — though not directly connected — have left us searching for answers as to functioning of the court.

•While adjourning for two weeks, a writ petition challenging the imposition of restrictions in Jammu and Kashmir, following the abrogation of Article 370, a bench of the top court, on August 12, 2019, merely accepted the pleas of the Attorney General on behalf of Centre to the effect that, “we have to ensure that law and order situation in Jammu and Kashmir is maintained and that it will take a few days to return to normalcy.” It further observed, “the situation is such that nobody knows what exactly is happening there. Some time should be given for bringing normalcy”.

•In other words, the top court — the custodian of the right to life and liberty — handed over its duty to the Central government. Subsequently, on August 16, another court bench hearing writ petitions on lifting the communication ban said, “let us give it a bit of time” and adjourned these matters to an unspecified date. During the hearing, the Central government urged that “things will settle down in next few days” and that “these are security related issues that are best left to the government and armed forces”.

•The court’s handling of these cases is a harsh reminder of the ADM Jabalpur case. More than a million people have been locked down in one of the biggest clampdowns by the Indian armed forces; and all under the cover of Section 144 of Cr.P.C. Article 21 is about life and liberty, and all that the Supreme Court has done is to defer these crucial matters without taking the government to task. In the first instance, the state failed “to ensure normalcy” from the day it abrogated Article 370; it has now tried to buy more time from the top court to do so. The “situation is such that nobody knows what exactly is happening there”, but that is precisely why it is the duty to court to ascertain true facts. It cannot shy away from doing justice in the name of “security” and “law and order”.

•It is not suggested here that the security of the nation can be compromised; nor can one argue that law and order ought not to controlled. But preservation of both is the duty of the state. If it intends to do so by taking away fundamental and basic human rights then one can infer that the state has failed in its duty.

An individual’s rights

•Equally, the court’s approach to protecting the rights of individuals is disturbing as seen in the case of the former Union Minister P. Chidambaram. On August 14, 2017, the Supreme Court entertained an SLP filed by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on the same day, included in the supplementary list as the last item before the Court of the CJI. The order of the Madras High Court appealed against was stayed. On February 22, 2018, the Supreme Court entertained the CBI’s interlocutory application on being mentioned and listed it for the next day. In both these cases, the respondent was Karti P. Chidambaram. Contrary to these actions, on August 21, 2019, it shied away from entertaining a petition by Mr. P. Chidambaram on super technical grounds. On August 16, a court bench entertained a petition filed by the Serious Fraud Investigation Office, on the same date and stayed the order of the Madras High Court. The reluctance to even list the matter on the same day is disappointing.

•It is not suggested for a moment that Mr. Chidambaram should not face the inquiry. But in a case where the retiring Judge of the High Court delivers the judgment after several months and in the afternoon (3 p.m.), virtually making it impossible for the petitioner to get relief from Supreme Court and which simultaneously fails to extend the interim protection which was operating for this period, is a case where the top court should have intervened. In its actions, the top court that made the right to anticipatory bail sacrosanct (Gurbaksh Singh Sibbia Etc vs State Of Punjab, 1980) has now made it infructuous. Does the judiciary have to be reminded of the fundamental principle, actus curiae neminem gravabit (no person should be prejudiced by an act of Court)?

•The judiciary needs to dispel the perception that it is no longer the pillar created to protect constitutional and legal rights. In any failure, its stature and status as the “bulwark of the rule of law and the democracy” will be compromised.

📰 Talking trade with the EU

Why it is important for India to hasten talks with the EU on a free trade agreement

•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 localisation, even while committing to liberalise in other areas.

•Second, beyond mere economic cost-benefit analysis, India must also approach an EU FTA from a geo-strategic perspective. With Mr. Trump’s hostile spotlight focussing 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.

Democratic regulations

•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.

📰 RBI showers ₹1.76 lakh crore bonanza on government

RBI showers ₹1.76 lakh crore bonanza on government
This follows the RBI board accepting the recommendation of a high-level panel headed by its former Governor Bimal Jalan.

•The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) at its board meeting on Monday decided to transfer a whopping  ₹1.76 lakh crore to the Centre — including interim dividend of ₹28,000 crore paid in February — which is likely to address the precarious fiscal situation of the government to a great extent.

•The ₹1.76 lakh crore includes the central bank’s 2018-19 surplus of ₹1.23 lakh crore and ₹52,637 crore of excess provisions identified as per the revised Economic Capital Framework (ECF) adopted at the Board meeting.

•The RBI said as financial resilience was within the desired range, the entire 2018-19 net income of ₹1.23 lakh crore has been transferred.

Jalan panel 

•The RBI had formed a committee chaired by former Governor Bimal Jalan to review its economic capital framework and suggest the quantum of excess provision to be transferred to the government.

•The committee was formed after a demand from the government for more money. The RBI Board has accepted all the recommendations of the Jalan committee. 

•“The committee’s recommendations were guided by the fact that the RBI forms the primary bulwark for monetary, financial and external stability,” the central bank said in a statement.

Two components

•The panel recommended a clear distinction between the two components of economic capital - realized equity and revaluation balances. It was recommended that realized equity could be used for meeting all risks/ losses as they were primarily built up from retained earnings, while revaluation balances could be reckoned only as risk buffers against market risks as they represented unrealized valuation gains and hence were not distributable. 

•The committee also recognised that RBI’s provisioning for monetary, financial and external stability risks is the country’s savings for a ‘rainy day’,  (a monetary or financial stability crisis), which has been consciously maintained with the RBI in view of its role as the Monetary Authority and the Lender of Last Resort.

•“This risk provisioning made primarily from retained earnings is cumulatively referred to as the Contingent Risk Buffer (CRB) and has been recommended to be maintained within a range of 6.5% to 5.5% of the RBI’s balance sheet,” the RBI statement said.

•“This CRB comprising 5.5 to 4.5% for monetary and financial stability risks and 1.0% for credit and operational risks,” the RBI added.

•The ‘Surplus Distribution Policy’, as recommended by the committee, says only if realized equity is above its requirement, the entire net income will be transferable to the Government. 

•The RBI said the available realised equity stood at 6.8% of balance sheet, and there was excess of risk provisioning of ₹11,608 crore at the upper bound of CRB and ₹52,637 crore at the lower bound of CRB. 

•“The Central Board decided to maintain the realized equity level at 5.5% of balance sheet and the resultant excess risk provisions of ₹52,637 crore were written back,” RBI said.

•“Clearly the amount is higher than expected and with additional ECF transfer, the ammunition from tax shortfall could be partly met, thus alleviating some of the fiscal fragilities,” said Madhavi Arora, Economist with Edelweiss Securities. 

📰 Chandrayaan-2 scans Mitra crater

Images of Lunar Surface captured by Terrain Mapping Camera -2 (TMC-2) of Chandrayaan 2
Orbiter sends second set of pictures of craters in the northern polar region

•Chandrayaan-2’s orbiter or mother spacecraft has zeroed in on a crater on the moon named after 20th century’s acclaimed radio physicist Sisir Kumar Mitra. Images of the crater are among the second set of pictures of the northern craters sent by the orbiter.

•The Mitra crater is on the edge of another crater. The pictures were taken by the Terrain Mapping Camera-2 around 2. 15 p.m. on August 23. The orbiter was then around 4,300 km from the moon, the Indian Space Research Organisation said in its update on Monday.

•At 25 degrees Kelvin (minus 248 degrees Celsius), the northern polar region is believed to be one of the coldest spots in the solar system.

•The first set of pictures of August 21 came from the camera on the lander which is riding atop the orbiter. The lander is set to separate from the orbiter on September 2 in preparation for its landing on the moon on September 7.

•Prof. Mitra (1890-1963) also lends his name to the S. K. Mitra Centre for Research in Space Environment of the University of Calcutta.

📰 G7 Summit: PM Modi highlights India’s efforts towards eliminating single use plastic

Mr. Modi last week said India will achieve most of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) climate change goals set for 2030 in the next one and a half year

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi on August 26 highlighted India’s large scale efforts towards eliminating single use plastic, conserving water, harnessing solar energy and protecting flora and fauna for a sustainable future in his address to a G7 session on environment here.

•Mr. Modi is attending the G7 Summit in the French town of Biarritz on special invitation of French President Emmanuel Macron.

•“Reiterating India’s commitment to tackle global challenges PM @narendramodi attended the dedicated session of #G7Biarritz summit on ‘Biodiversity, Oceans, Climate’ Underlined India’s contribution to address reducing biodiversity, climate change, water stress & ocean pollution,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Raveesh Kumar tweeted.

•In his address to the Indian community at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris last week, Mr. Modi said India will achieve most of the Conference of the Parties (COP 21) climate change goals set for 2030 in the next one and a half year.

•The 21st session of the COP21 of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Paris from November 30 to December 12 2015 that saw the participation of 195 nations.

•The nations negotiated and adopted the Paris Agreement in which India made four commitments, including reducing greenhouse gas emission intensity of its GDP by 33-35 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, under its Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC).

📰 Giving wings to better air connectivity

A cooperative federalism framework can provide the required impetus to the civil aviation sector

•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.

Airport development

•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 operationalised 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 compartmentalisation 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, incentivising airlines and pooling resources of both the Union and State governments can accelerate the harmonised growth of the Indian civil aviation sector which would be equitable and inclusive.

📰 Imports from U.S. to grow, trade Ministers to meet soon

Modi to meet CEOs of energy firms in the U.S. in September

•Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday informed U.S. President Donald Trump that India planned to further step up imports, including of oil, from the U.S. and an estimated $4 billion of imports were already “in the pipeline”.

•The Modi-Trump meeting assumes significance in the wake of the strain in the bilateral relationship on trade and economic issues.

•Meeting on the sidelines of the G7 summit here, the two leaders agreed that preferably before the Prime Minister visited the U.S. in September, the Commerce Ministers of the two countries would discuss a whole range of trade issues.

•Briefing presspersons on the 40-minute meeting between Mr. Modi and Mr. Trump, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale said Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal was supposed to go to Washington earlier, but it did not happen.

•Mr. Trump had previously described India as a “tariff king”. Before meeting Mr. Modi on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Osaka, Japan, he had demanded that India withdraw “very high” tariffs on U.S. goods.

•“The Prime Minister spoke of the importance of energy imports from the U.S...,” Mr. Gokhale said.

•He noted that Mr. Modi would travel to Houston, America’s energy capital, on September 22, and was expected to have a meeting with the CEOs of top U.S. energy companies. The objectives were to see how India could import more oil and how the country could invest in the U.S. energy sector.

•Mr. Gokhale said Mr. Trump spoke warmly of the fact that India had become a major energy importer. The President indicated that he was willing to send top administration officials to Houston to ensure that the bilateral energy relationship made progress.

📰 Earth’s burning lungs: On Amazon's rainforest fire

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 basinsince 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 authorised 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.

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