India is one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world.  Its domestic traffic makes up 69% of the total airline traffic in South Asia.  India’s airport capacity is expected to handle 1 billion trips annually by 2023. The Ministry of Civil Aviation is responsible for formulating national aviation policies and programmes.  Today, Lok Sabha will discuss and vote upon the budget of the Ministry of Civil Aviation. In light of this, we discuss key issues with the aviation sector in India. 

The aviation sector came under severe financial stress during the Covid-19 pandemic. After air travel was suspended in March 2020, airline operators in India reported losses worth more than Rs 19,500 crore while airports reported losses worth more than Rs 5,120 crore. However, several airline companies were under financial stress before the pandemic affected passenger travel. For instance, in the past 15 years, seventeen airlines have exited the market.  Out of those, two airlines, Air Odisha Aviation Pvt Ltd and Deccan Charters Pvt Ltd exited the market in 2020.  Air India has been reporting consistent losses over the past four years. All other major private airlines in India such as Indigo and Spice Jet faced losses in 2018-19.  

Figure 1: Operating profit/loss of major airlines in India (in Rs crore)

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Note: Vistara Airlines commenced operations in 2015, while Air Asia began in 2014; Negative values indicate operating loss.
Source: Unstarred Question 1812 answered on August 4, 2021, and Unstarred Question 1127 answered on September 21, 2020; Rajya Sabha; PRS.

Sale of Air India

Air India has accounted for the biggest expenditure head of the Ministry of Civil Aviation since 2011-12.  Between 2009-10 and 2020-21, the government spent Rs 1,22,542 crore on Air India through budgeted allocations.  In October 2021, the sale of Air India to Talace Ltd., which is a subsidiary of Tata Sons Pvt Ltd, was approved.  The bid for Air India was finalised at Rs 18,000 crore.  

Up to January 2020, Air India had accumulated debt worth Rs 60,000 crore.  The central government is repaying this debt in the financial year 2021-22.  After the finalisation of the sale, the government allocated roughly Rs 71,000 crore for expenses related to Air India. 

In addition to loan repayment, in 2021-22, the government will provide Air India with a fresh loan (Rs 4,500 crore) and grants (Rs 1,944 crore) to recover from the shock of Covid-19.  To pay for the medical benefits of retired employees of Air India, a recurring expense of Rs 165 crore will be borne by the central government each year.   

In 2022-23, Rs 9,260 crore is allocated towards servicing the debt of AIAHL (see Table 1). AIAHL is a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) formed by the government to hold the assets and liabilities of Air India while the process of its sale takes place. 

Table 1: Breakdown of expenditure on Air India (in Rs crore)

Major Head

2020-21 Actual

2021-22 RE

2022-23 BE

% change from 2021-22 RE to 2022-23 BE

Equity infusion in AIAHL

-

62,057

-

-100%

Debt servicing of AIAHL

2,184

2,217

9,260

318%

Medical benefit to retired employees

-

165

165

0%

Loans to AI

-

4,500

-

-100%

Grants for cash losses during Covid-19

-

1,944

-

-100%

Total

2,184

70,883

9,425

-87%

           

Note: BE – Budget Estimate; RE – Revised Estimate; AAI: Airports Authority of India; AIAHL – Air India Asset Holding Limited; AI – Air India. Percentage change is from RE 2021-22 to BE 2022-23. 
Source: Demands for Grants 2022-23, Ministry of Civil Aviation; PRS.

Privatisation of Airports

Airports Authority of India (AAI) is responsible for creating, upgrading, maintaining and managing civil aviation infrastructure in the country.   As on June 23, 2020, it operates and manages 137 airports in the country.   Domestic air traffic has more than doubled from around 61 million passengers in 2013-14 to around 137 million in 2019-20.  International passenger traffic has grown from 47 million in 2013-14 to around 67 million in 2019-20, registering a growth of over 6% per annum.  As a result, airports in India are witnessing rising levels of congestion.  Most major airports are operating at 85% to 120% of their handling capacity.   In response to this, the government has decided to privatise some airports to address the problem of congestion.  

AAI has leased out eight of its airports through Public Private Partnership (PPP) for operation, management and development on long term lease basis.  Six of these airports namely, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram, and Mangaluru have been leased out to M/s Adani Enterprises Limited (AEL) for 50 years (under PPP).  The ownership of these airports remains with AAI and the operations will be back with AAI after the concession period is over.  The Standing Committee on Transport (2021) had noted that the government expects to have 24 PPP airports by 2024.  

Figure 2: Allocation towards AAI (in Rs crore)

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Note: BE – Budget Estimate; RE – Revised Estimate; AAI – Airports Authority of India; IEBR – Internal and Extra-Budgetary Resources;
Source: Demand for Grant documents, Ministry of Civil Aviation; PRS. 

The Committee also noted a structural issue in the way airport concessions are given.  As of now, entities that bid the highest amount are given the rights to operate an airport.  This leads them to pass on the high charge to airline operators.  This system does not consider the actual cost of the services and leads to an arbitrary increase in the cost of airline operators.  The Ministry sees the role of AAI in future policy issues to include providing high quality, safe and customer-oriented airport and air navigation services.  In 2022-23, the government has allocated Rs 150 crore to AAI, which is almost ten times higher than the budget estimates of 2021-22. 

Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS-UDAN)

The top 15 airports in the country account for about 83% of the total passenger traffic.  These airports are also close to their saturation limit, and hence the Ministry notes that there is a need to add more Tier-II and Tier-III cities to the aviation network.  The Regional Connectivity Scheme was introduced in 2016 to stimulate regional air connectivity and make air travel affordable to the masses.  The budget for this scheme is Rs 4,500 crore over five years from 2016-17 to 2021-22.   As of December 16, 2021, 46% of this amount has been released.  In 2022-23, the scheme has been allocated Rs 601 crore, which is 60% lower than the revised estimates of 2021-22 (Rs 994 crore).  

Under the scheme, airline operators are incentivised to operate on under-served routes by providing them with viability gap funding and airport fee waivers.  AAI, which is the implementing agency of this scheme, has sanctioned 948 routes to boost regional connectivity.  As of January 31, 2022, 43% of these routes have been operationalised.  As per the Ministry, lack of availability of land and creation of regional infrastructure has led to delays in the scheme.  Issues with obtaining licenses and unsustainable operation of awarded routes also contribute to the delay.  As per the Ministry, these issues, along with the setback faced due to the pandemic acted as major obstacles for the effective utilisation of funds.

Figure 3: Expenditure on Regional Connectivity Scheme (in Rs crore)

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 Note: BE – Budget Estimate; RE – Revised Estimate; 
 Source: Demand for Grants documents, Ministry of Civil Aviation; PRS.

Potential of air cargo 

The Standing Committee on Transport (2021) had noted India’s cargo industry’s huge potential with respect to its geographical location, its growing economy, and its growth in domestic and international trade in the last decade.  In 2019-20, all Indian airports together handled 3.33 million metric tonnes (MMT) of freight.  This is much lower than the cargo handled by Hong Kong (4.5 MMT), Memphis (4.8 MMT), and Shanghai (3.7 MMT), which are the top three airports in terms of the volume of freight handled.  The Standing Committee on Transport (2021) has noted inadequate infrastructure as a major bottleneck in developing the country’s air cargo sector.  To reduce such bottleneck, it recommended the Ministry to establish dedicated cargo airports, and automate air cargo procedures and information systems to streamline redundant processes.   

The Committee has also highlighted that the Open Sky Policy enables foreign cargo carriers to freely operate cargo services to and from any airports in India having customs/immigration facilities.  They account for 90-95% of the total international cargo carried to and from the country.  On the other hand, Indian air cargo operators face discriminatory practices and regulatory impediments for operating international cargo flights in foreign countries.  The Committee urged the Ministry to provide a level-playing field for Indian air cargo operators and to ensure equal opportunities for them.  The Ministry revised the Open Sky Policy in December 2020.   Under the revised policy, the operations of foreign ad hoc and pure non-scheduled freighter charter service flights have been restricted to six airports - Bengaluru, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, and Mumbai. 

Rising cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel

The cost of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) forms around 40% of the total operating cost of airlines and impacts their financial viability.  ATF prices have been consistently rising over the past years, placing stress on the balance sheets of airline companies.  As per recent news reports, airfares are expected to rise as the conflict between Russia and Ukraine is making ATF costlier.

ATF attracts VAT which is variable across states and does not have a provision for input tax credit.  High rates of aviation fuel coupled with high VAT rates are adversely affecting airline companies.

Table 2: Expenditure on ATF by airlines over the years (in Rs crore)

Year

National Carriers

Private Domestic Airlines

2016-17

         7,286 

       10,506 

2017-18

         8,563 

       13,596 

2018-19

       11,788 

       20,662 

2019-20

       11,103 

       23,354 

2020-21

         3,047 

         7,452 

Source: Unstarred Question 2581, Rajya Sabha; PRS. 

The Ministry, in January 2020,  has reduced the tax burden on ATF by eliminating fuel throughput charges that were levied by airport operators at all airports across India.  Central excise on ATF was reduced from 14% to 11% w.e.f. October 11, 2018.  State governments have also reduced VAT/Sales Tax on ATF drawn on RCS airports to 1% or less for 10 years.  For non-RCS-UDAN operations, various state governments have reduced VAT/Sales Tax on ATF to within 5%.  The Standing Committee on Transport (2021) has recommended ATF to be included within the ambit of GST and that applicable GST should not exceed 12% on ATF with full Input Tax Credit. 

For more details, please refer to the Demand for Grants Analysis of the Ministry of Civil Aviation, 2022-23. 

Yesterday, the Governor of Karnataka promulgated the Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022.  The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions.  A Bill with the same provisions as the Ordinance was passed by the Karnataka Legislative Assembly in December 2021.

In the recent past, Haryana (2022), Madhya Pradesh (2021), and Uttar Pradesh (2021) have passed laws regulating religious conversions.  In this blog post, we discuss the key provisions of the Karnataka Ordinance and compare it with existing laws in other states (Table 2). 

What religious conversions does the Karnataka Ordinance prohibit?

The Ordinance prohibits forced religious conversions through misrepresentation, coercion, allurement, fraud, or the promise of marriage.  Any person who converts another person unlawfully will be penalised, and all offences will be cognizable and non-bailable.  Penalties for attempting to forcibly convert someone are highlighted in Table 1.  If an institution (such as an orphanage, old age home, or NGO) violates the provisions of the Ordinance, the persons in charge of the institution will be punished as per the provisions in Table 1.

Table 1: Penalties for forced conversion

Conversion of

Imprisonment

Fine (in Rs)

Any person through specified means

3-5 years

25,000

Minor, woman, SC/ST, or a person of unsound mind

3-10 years 

50,000

Two or more persons (Mass conversion)

3-10 years 

1,00,000

Sources: Karnataka Protection of Right to Freedom of Religion Ordinance, 2022; PRS.

Re-converting to one’s immediate previous religion will not be considered a conversion under the Ordinance.   Further, any marriage done for the sole purpose of an unlawful conversion will be prohibited, unless the procedure for religious conversion is followed.  

How may one convert their religion?

As per the Ordinance, a person intending to convert their religion is required to send a declaration to the District Magistrate (DM), before and after a conversion ceremony takes place.  The pre-conversion declaration must be submitted by both parties (the person converting their religion, and the religious converter), at least 30 days in advance.  The Ordinance prescribes penalties for both parties for failing to follow procedure.

After receiving the pre-conversion declarations, the DM will notify the proposed religious conversion in public, and invite objections to the proposed conversion for a period of 30 days.  Once a public objection is recorded, the DM will order an enquiry to prove the cause, purpose, and genuine intent of the conversion.   If the enquiry finds that an offence has been committed, the DM may initiate criminal action against the convertor.  A similar procedure is specified for a post-conversion declaration (by the converted person).  

Note that anti-conversion laws in states such as Uttar Pradesh, Haryana, Madhya Pradesh, and Uttarakhand have a similar procedure for religious conversions.   However, these laws do not require a declaration after conversion.  

After the religious conversion has taken place, the converted person must submit a post-conversion declaration to the DM, within 30 days of the conversion.  Further, the converted person must also appear before the DM to confirm their identity and the contents of the declaration.   If no complaints are received during this time, the DM will notify the conversion, and inform concerned authorities (employer, officials of various government departments, local government bodies, and heads of educational institutions).  

Who may file a complaint?

Similar to laws in other states, any person who has been unlawfully converted, or a person associated to them by blood, marriage, or adoption may file a complaint against an unlawful conversion.   Laws in Haryana and Madhya Pradesh allow certain people (those related by blood, adoption, custodianship, or marriage) to file complaints, after seeking permission from the Court.  Note that the Karnataka Ordinance allows colleagues (or any associated person) to file a complaint against an unlawful conversion.

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*In Chirag Singhvi v. State of Rajasthan, the Rajasthan High Court framed guidelines to regulate religious conversions in the state.