1. A homecoming: On Air India and the Tatas

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Economics

Air India, the airline started by J.R.D. Tata in the 1930s, is all set to return to the Tata fold after a 68-year-long journey as India’s state-owned flag carrier. The Centre’s announcement on Friday that Tata Sons’ subsidiary Talace Pvt. Ltd. was the winning bidder for the 100% stake in the debt-laden airline rings the curtain on the government’s multi-year effort to privatise the loss-making carrier. Talace emerged winner in the two-horse race by bidding to take over ₹15,300 crore of Air India’s more than ₹60,000 crore of accumulated debt and offering an additional ₹2,700 crore in cash for the Government’s equity stake.

For the Tatas, who have retained an abiding interest in the country’s airline industry and currently majority own both a budget carrier, AirAsia India, and a full-service airline, Vistara, the Air India acquisition brings opportunities to gain scale and synergies at a significant level. With Air India and its low-cost unit, Air India Express, together serving 55 overseas destinations, holding over 3,000 landing and parking slots, operating a 141-aircraft fleet of wide-body long-haul jets and narrow body planes for shorter flights, and the parent holding membership of the 26-airline Star Alliance, the Tatas in one stroke add unparalleled global reach among Indian carriers. Air India’s 13.2% consolidated market share of domestic traffic as of August also gives the group a more competitive combined share of almost 27%, albeit still a substantial 30 percentage points adrift of market leader IndiGo.

The Centre, for its part, can finally heave a sigh of relief at having successfully exited the commercial aviation space, a high-cost industry that most governments around the world have left in the hands of private carriers so as to ensure taxpayers’ money is deployed more meaningfully in social and strategic sectors. After having ploughed in more than ₹1-lakh crore of capital in the past decade alone and seeing Air India suffer a daily loss of over ₹20 crore, the Government’s desperation to cut its losses and close out a fire sale is understandable. The pandemic’s impact on public finances and the carrier’s operations, especially given the devastating impact on air travel both domestic and international, is sure to have helped spur the Government’s decision to agree to not only absorb 75% of the carrier’s debt, but to also pick up the tab on medical benefits for former employees. And in a bid to protect the interests of the more than 13,000 permanent and contractual staff at the airline and its unit, the government has bound Talace to ensuring there should be no job cuts for at least one year. Still, integrating the state-run carrier’s sizeable workforce is going to be one among the many serious challenges, awaiting the Tatas. To turn around Air India at a time of soaring fuel costs and COVID-hit air travel, is sure to test the conglomerate’s managerial mettle.

Source: The Hindu

2. Why launch of Indian Space Association is significant

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Science & Technology

The Indian Space Association (ISpA) was formally launched Monday by Prime Minister Narendra Modi as an industry body representing the various stakeholders in the Indian space domain with members comprising the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), Bharti Airtel, OneWeb, Tata Group’s Nelco, L&T, MapMyIndia among others.

Why is this significant?

While India has made progress in the space sector over the years, ISRO has primarily been at the centre of this progress. Along the lines of the US, now several private sector companies both global and domestic have taken interest in India’s space domain, with space-based communication networks coming to the fore.

How are space-based communications network growing?

Several Indian and international companies have bet on satellite communications as the next frontier to provide internet connectivity at the retail level. This includes SpaceX’s StarLink, Sunil Bharti Mittal’s OneWeb, Amazon’s Project Kuiper, US satellite maker Hughes Communications, etc. OneWeb, for example, is building its initial constellation of 648 low-earth orbit satellites and has already put 322 satellites into orbit. Its services are expected to begin this year to the Arctic region including Alaska, Canada, and the UK. By late 2022, OneWeb will offer its high-speed, low latency connectivity services in India and the rest of the world. In addition, StarLink and Amazon are also in discussions with the Indian government for a licence to offer satellite-based internet services. SpaceX has a plan to create a network of 12,000 satellites of which over 1,300 are already sky-borne.

Why is satellite internet important?

Industry experts suggest that satellite internet will be essential for broadband inclusion in remote areas and sparsely populated locations where terrestrial networks have not reached. As of now, however, satellite communications remains limited to use by corporates and institutions that use it for emergency use, critical trans-continental communications and for connecting to remote areas with no connectivity. As of August this year, India had only 3 lakh satellite communications customers, compared with 45 lakh in the US and 21 lakh in the European Union.

Source: The Indian Express

3. The audacity of regional films

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper I; Social Issues

For long, Indian cinema has been synonymous with Bollywood. However, the pandemic-induced growth of over-the-top (OTT) platforms has opened up new vistas for audiences to watch and appreciate films from other parts of the country. Bollywood, which is largely influenced by the ebbs and flows of the box office, has often failed to capture the social complexities of Indian society. It is still quite distant from the experiences and sensibilities of the masses. It generally follows an escapist approach, where storytelling becomes a commodity. On the other hand, Malayalam, Assamese, Bengali, Marathi and Tamil cinema, to name a few, frequently depict gender, religious, caste and class disparities.

This is not to say that fantasy, which provides a break from the dreariness of our daily lives, is not an important aspect of cinema. But it is the safe distancing of Hindi cinema from hard-hitting issues such as the atrocities committed against Dalits and Muslims, religious majoritarianism, sexual inclusivity and class barriers that are a major concern.

Pushing boundaries

The cinematic treatment of Bollywood has been formulaic. Films either derive inspiration from the West or are compelled by the process of globalisation. Over the past few years, Bollywood has churned out many hyper nationalist films, films that misrepresent minority communities, and films that assert a certain culture, thus furthering the majoritarian nation-building project.

On the other hand, regional cinema is constantly pushing boundaries with experimental takes on social and political issues. In recent years, Tamil cinema has revolutionised the art with larger social observations. Filmmakers like Mari Selvaraj, Pa. Ranjit and Vetrimaaran have produced films that explore the issues of the common man. They represent the voice of the subaltern without being apologetic unlike their counterparts in Bollywood. Mari Selvaraj and Pa. Ranjit are known for making films centred around Dalit lives. In the 1970s and ‘80s, there was a wave of parallel cinema in Bollywood which spoke of the victimisation of Dalits. However, in contemporary Tamil cinema, Dalits are not victims; they are assertive protagonists who actively fight back against upper caste assertion. Through his films Kabali and Kaala and most recently Sarpatta Parambarai, Pa. Ranjithhas brought to us Dalit heroes, who are rare in Indian film history. Mari Selvaraj has established the normalisation of Dalit characters through Pariyerum Perumal and Karnan. These films further the politics of social justice in subtle ways instead of depicting communities as pitiable beneficiaries of certain policies and lacking in dignity.

Another regional industry which has resonated with the larger Indian audience is the Malayalam industry. Malayalam cinema is known to reflect on contemporary concerns and anxieties. Most Malayalam films have small budgets, but their impact is immense because of their fresh take on common people-centric stories. Jeo Baby’s The Great Indian Kitchen, for instance, can be considered as one of the biggest disruptors of normative gendered labour and relations. While questioning regressive gendered practices, the filmmaker employs a layered and minimalist approach to drive the message home. On the other hand, Bollywood’s approach tends to be loud and sensational, with a greater focus on costume,

set design, light, colour, and location than the subject at hand. In Dileesh Pothan’s Maheshinte Prathikaaram, even the slippers of the character played by Fahad Faasil has an important role to play. Regional films are often replete with metaphors and symbols.

Politics of majoritarianism

Today, when hyper nationalism is at its peak, Bollywood often acts as a tool in the hands of the majoritarian nation-building project. Many Hindi films use the archaic trope of cultural assertion and continue to vilify a particular community while downplaying structural inequalities in society. This trend can be witnessed in the surge in period dramas and biopics of politicians and sportspersons where characters are overglorified. On the other hand, certain filmmakers in Bengali and Marathi cinema, through their politically heightened content, are challenging polarisation and the threat to India’s diversity. Aparna Sen in her 2019 film, Ghawre Bairey Aaj, highlights the jingoism prevalent in the political ecosystem. Another important movie is Nagraj Manjule’s Sairat which treats caste as a political issue.

Regional cinema has woven narratives in a socially conscious manner and has the potential to substantially disrupt class and caste hegemony and majoritarianism. It represents India in a much more holistic and meaningful manner than Bollywood.

Source: The Hindu

4. Tackling the climate crisis: Sixth Assessment Report

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper III; Environment

The recently published Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report from Working Group I makes a clarion call for climate action. According to the report, the past decade (2011-2020) was warmer by 1.09°C than the period from 1850 to 1900, and the 1.5°C global warming threshold is likely to be breached soon. The IPCC report warns India against more intense heat waves, heavy monsoons and rise in weather extremes in the future. The Global Climate Risk Index (2021) ranked India the seventh-most affected country by weather extremes. Responses to climate change vary from place to place as there are differences in production systems, agro-climatic and socio-economic conditions across the country.

Adopt adaptation strategies

The pressure to speed up mitigation and adaptation is at an all-time high. India is doing well in achieving its mitigation commitments of reducing emission intensity and enhancing renewable capacity. India is targeting 450 gigawatts of renewable energy capacity by 2030 and it has launched mega solar and green hydrogen missions. The Shoonya programme by NITI Aayog, which aims to accelerate adoption of electric vehicles, is yet another effort towards adoption of clean technologies.

With escalating climatic risks, there is an urgency to adopt adaptation strategies. India has some dedicated initiatives towards adaptation, such as the National Action Plan on Climate Change and the National Adaptation Fund. However, a breakthrough on adaptation and resilience actions is needed to save hard-earned developmental gains and adjust to new climate conditions. Adaptation planning needs to go beyond a business-as-usual approach. A development-centric approach that aligns climate change, food security, and livelihood perspectives and takes into consideration regional specificities is crucial for reducing poverty and distress migrations. Moreover, adaptation planning requires governance at different levels to understand, plan, coordinate, integrate and act to reduce vulnerability and exposure.

To strengthen adaptation and resilience, India can do the following. First, it can be more prepared for climate change with high-quality meteorological data. With improved early warning systems and forecasting, we can tackle the crisis better. Premier research institutes can be roped in to develop regional climate projections for robust risk assessments.

Second, for sustainable production systems, it is necessary to develop well-functioning markets for environmentally friendly products and disseminate them for the desired behavioural change.

Third, it is important to encourage private sector participation for investment in adaptation technologies and for designing and implementing innovative climate services and solutions in areas such as agriculture, health, infrastructure, insurance and risk management.

Fourth, we need to protect mangroves and forests to address climate-related risks by blending traditional knowledge with scientific evidence and encourage local and non-state actors to actively participate.

Fifth, major social protection schemes must be climate-proofed. We have an opportunity to create resilient infrastructural assets, diversify the economy and enhance the adaptive capacity of rural households. Sixth, for continuous monitoring and evaluation, effective feedback mechanisms must be developed for mid-course correction. Periodic fine-tuning of State Action Plans on Climate Change is crucial to systematically understand micro-level sensitivities, plan resource allocation, and design responses to serve at different levels of intensities of climate hazards.

Proactive and timely need-based adaptation is important. Without it, there will be a huge fiscal burden in the future. A more collaborative approach towards climate change adaptation is crucial. Next-generation reforms will promote new business and climate service opportunities across several sectors and thus create a sustainable economy.

Source: The Hindu

5. Why Rajasthan’s marriage registration Bill has kicked up a storm

Relevant for GS Prelims & Mains Paper II; Polity & Governance

A Bill passed last month by the Rajasthan Assembly, which amended a 2009 law on mandatory registration of marriages, including child marriages, has been embroiled in controversy. Amid demands to withdraw the Bill, Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot said Monday that the government would request the Governor to return the Bill. “We are getting it examined by the Law (department) and will request the Governor to send the law we’ve passed back to us. And we’ll get it examined and post examination, we’ll move it forward if needed, or not,” he said.

The Bill was passed amidst opposition by the BJP, while civil society, women’s organisations and the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) have written to Gehlot to withdraw the Bill on the ground that it legitimises child marriage. Petitions have been filed in the High Court and the Supreme Court.

What is the amendment?

The Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages (Amendment) Bill, 2021 amends Section 8 of the Rajasthan Compulsory Registration of Marriages Act, 2009, which deals with “Duty to submit Memorandum”. The Act itself defines Memorandum as the “Memorandum for registration of marriage.”

Prior to the amendment, Section 8 read: “The parties, or in case the parties have not completed the age of twenty-one years, the parents or as the case may be, guardian of the parties, shall be responsible to submit the memorandum within a period of thirty days from the date of solemnization of the marriage to the Registrar within whose jurisdiction the marriage is solemnized or both or any of the parties resides. (2) A memorandum, which is not submitted within the time limit specified in sub-section (1), may be submitted at any time on payment of penalty as may be prescribed.”

After the amendment, which changes a key aspect in the age prescribed, Section 8 now reads: “The parties to the marriage, or in case the bridegroom has not completed the age of twenty one years and/or bride has not completed the age of eighteen years, the parents or, as the case may be, guardian of the parties shall be responsible to submit the memorandum, in such manner, as may be prescribed, within a period of thirty days from the date of solemnization of the marriage to the Registrar within whose jurisdiction the marriage is solemnized, or the parties to the marriage or either of them are residing for at least thirty days before the date of submission of the memorandum.”

Sub-section 2 has been amended to permit eligible parties — even if one or both are deceased — to submit the memorandum.

Why has the amendment been made?

The state government, which has termed the amendment a “technical” one, argues that this would bring the age in line with central legislation which recognises the age of 18 as majority for a girl and 21 for a boy. Registration of child marriages would help in their faster annulment and help the government reach out to more victims, particularly widows.

Why has it been criticised?

Critics say compulsory registration of child marriage would legitimise it. Activists have also said the marriage certificate might in fact, contrary to government claims, become a hurdle in getting an annulment later as courts could cite lack of a marriage certificate as a reason to not grant an annulment. Child marriages are conducted mostly away from the public glare and could be hard to prove. But even prior to the amendment, registration of child marriages was compulsory under Section 8. The amendment only restricts its scope to women till the age of 18.

How can a child marriage be registered?

Child marriages are not illegal per se, although there is a legal framework to prevent them. The Prohibition of Child Marriage Act, allows a child marriage to be annulled by either the bride or the groom who was a minor at the time of marriage when they attain the age of majority. So essentially, it gives them an option to roll back the marriage as if it never happened. If the parties do not wish to annul the marriage, it would be considered a legitimate marriage. This shield is given to essentially ensure rights of minor girls in access to the marital home, marital property and ensure the legitimacy of offspring.

Child marriages under certain conditions however, are considered void automatically. This could be where the minor is forced, kidnapped for marriage, or is married for the purpose of human trafficking.

Then how does the law strive to prevent child marriage?

Under Section 9, Prohibition of the Child Marriage Act, male adults shall be punished with imprisonment up to two years and/or a fine of Rs 1 lakh for marrying a minor girl. Under Section 10, “Whoever performs, conducts, directs or abets any child marriage shall be punishable with rigorous imprisonment which may extend to two years and shall be liable to fine which may extend to one lakh rupees unless he proves that he had reasons to believe that the marriage was not a child marriage.” This enables the police to arrest not just the adult groom or parents facilitating a child marriage, but anyone who participates in solemnising such a marriage.

In Independent Thought v Union of India (2017), the Supreme Court refused to extend the protection of marital rape to child marriages. The court held that intercourse with a minor girl, even under marriage, would amount to rape. While marital rape is not punished under the law, intercourse with a minor is considered rape.

Does registration make a marriage legal?

In Seema v Ashwini Kumar (2006), the Supreme Court ruled that registration of marriage must be made compulsory. Some states such as Karnataka and Uttarakhand have similar provisions for registering and recording child marriages. In 2019, the Kerala High Court also ruled that there is no bar in the law to register a child marriage, upholding a 2008 government circular framing rules for such registration.

Source: The Indian Express