* Part 1

A temple and a mosque in Elavaramkuzhi come together to construct two offering boxes next to each other, to foster communal harmony; the two communities had built a common arch earlier

Taking communal harmony to a new level, two vaults at Elavaramkuzhi, a village in Kollam, about 70 km from Thiruvananthapuram in Kerala, stand cheek by jowl on the same platform bearing the features of different religions.

The Juma Masjid and the Mahadeva Temple, 250 metres apart, share a long history of mutual respect and brotherhood, a bond that no propaganda breaks. The decision to install the vaults side by side was taken unanimously, and they came into being six months ago.

“Both the mosque and temple had separate vaults and we demolished them both to construct the new ones to set an example. We constituted a common panel for the construction, and Shaji Shanmukham, a resident, donated the land for the purpose. As per the property deeds, the land now belongs jointly, to the mosque and temple,” says M. Ashraf, secretary of the mosque committee. Devotees contribute to both boxes.

This is not the first time the two religious places collaborated. About two years ago, they had constructed a common arch on the main road that leads to both the places of worship. Called ‘mathasauharda kavadam’ (harmony gateway), the structure displays verses and scriptures belonging to both religions.

“Elavaramkuzhi is an interior area, but it has a strong secular character. It’s the temple committee that first serves us sweets during the Id procession,” Mr. Ashraf says.

Though a few people came forward to sponsor the project, it was decided that money would be raised from the public.

The government’s biggest claim to success in aviation since 2014 is building “74 airports in seven years”, as opposed to the same number built in the seven decades since Independence. However, only 11 of these airports have actually been built from scratch, while 15 airports have fallen into disuse over this period, due to the collapse of almost half the routes launched under the regional connectivity scheme (RCS).

In the recent past, airport development has primarily been undertaken under the RCS, which was launched in 2017 to improve air connectivity for smaller cities, and to redevelop under-utilised airports. This largely involved the revival of old airstrips that were either lying unused or were used sparsely. The government launched 479 routes to revive these airports, out of which 225 have since ceased operations, according to the Civil Aviation Ministry’s response to questions from The Hindu.

Beyond the stats

Only 11 greenfield airports have become operational since May 2014, Minister of State for Civil Aviation V.K. Singh replied to a question in the Rajya Sabha on July 24.

These are the airports at Mopa in Goa, Shirdi and Sindhudurg in Maharashtra, Kalaburagi and Shivamogga in Karnataka, Kushinagar in Uttar Pradesh, Orvakal (Kurnool) in Andhra Pradesh, Durgapur in West Bengal, Pakyong in Sikkim, Kannur in Kerala, and Donyi Polo in Arunachal Pradesh.

The figure of 74 new airports, which Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya Scindia regularly raises, includes nine heliports and two waterdromes. These two waterdromes, built for seaplanes between Gujarat’s Gandhinagar and the Statue of Unity in Kevadia, closed down soon after the Prime Minister launched them in October 2020, as SpiceJet discontinued its flights after a “change in technical requirements”, the airline told The Hindu in response to a questionnaire.

As many as 15 airports, including Sikkim’s only airport in Pakyong, and those in Punjab’s Adampur, Pathankot, and Ludhiana do not see any flights any more, according to a senior government official.

The RCS, also known as the Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (UDAN) scheme, was launched with the aim of taking flying to the masses by improving air connectivity for Tier-2 and -3 cities, and subsidising air travel on these routes.

The routes are awarded after a bidding process, and the winning airlines are given certain incentives, along with viability gap funding (or a subsidy) equivalent to 50% of the seating capacity on their aircraft. In return, the airlines sell 50% of their seats at a flat rate of ₹2,500 per hour of flight, in order to make air travel affordable.

The cost of the subsidy is borne by Indian airlines flying on non-RCS routes, who pay an RCS levy of ₹15,000 per departure, as per the latest revision that came into effect in April 2023. The airlines further pass the levy on their passengers on non-RCS flights. A total sum of ₹2,038 crore has been collected as RCS levy. The scheme also set aside a sum of ₹4,500 crore to revive old airports by recarpeting runways and erecting terminal buildings. Of these, 46 airports have been redeveloped by the Airports Authority of India (AAI), and the remaining by State governments and public sector units (PSUs).

The government has so far spent ₹3,490 crore on these airports. The Union Finance Ministry approved another ₹1,000 crore for this purpose in May this year, for a period of three years.

Commercially unviable

Of the 225 routes that have ceased operations, 128 routes shut down even before completing the mandatory three-year period under the scheme. Airlines found 70 of these routes to be commercially unviable despite the subsidy, while the remaining 58 have been cancelled due to “non-compliance” by the airline operator or the airline surrendering routes, or the airline companies shutting down.

As many as 97 routes shut down after completing the three-year period during which the government provides support. The objective of the scheme was that after the three-year period, airlines would be able to sustain operations on their own without government support, but out of the 155 routes that have completed three years, only 58 have survived.

As a large creditor to Sri Lanka, China is welcome to join the effort steered by Japan, India and France to help the island nation cope with its debt distress, Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Saturday. She also called upon the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank to speed up relief measures for countries facing debt vulnerabilities.

Terming multilateral development banks’ reforms and debt-relief measures for many stressed economies as the top two finance track priorities for India during G-20, she said that a comprehensive, better and quicker approach is required to address the problem within the framework of the IMF, World Bank, and “outside” it.

“I quote the ‘outside of it’ equally as much as within the framework, as we have the example of Sri Lanka, a middle-income country which got into distress because its earnings were limited to tourism and some other areas like export of tea… Sri Lanka required a quick redressal, although outside of the framework because they are a middle-income country,” she noted in a discussion at the India Japan Forum.

In Sri Lanka’s case, Japan, which holds the G-7 Presidency currently, quickly took the lead to address the distress, she pointed out. “Japan came up, along with France and India, with a quick committee of creditors group, which started addressing the issue. And of course, it was an open forum, it wasn’t limited to just to the three countries, China is welcome to participate as one of the big creditors,” Ms. Sitharaman said.

Japan’s leadership in such cases with “a constructive approach to address debt distress” has been well-received, the Minister said, adding that this is an indicator that the G-7 and G-20 together would come up with solutions.

While the MDBs are acting to alleviate debt distress, they need to be “more nimble”, the Minister said, noting that “we are looking at situations where countries are waiting for more than three or four years after the application seeking some redressal, to get the actual resolution of the issues”.

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