air travel

India’s UDAN plan for cheap air travel will not make flying affordable for the average Indian

The average Indian will not be able to spend Rs 2,500 for a flight ticket.

The average Indian is unlikely to be able to afford a flight ticket for Rs 2,500 – which is 13.8 times the monthly spending on travel (Rs 180) in 2011-2012 – under the government’s new “Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik” or UDAN programme.

Launched on April 27, UDAN will feature flights to underserved smaller towns and a certain number of seats will be subsidised under the programme – with tickets at around Rs 2,500 for an hour-long flight and fares going up pro-rata for longer distances – according to a government press release. For instance, a subsidised Shimla-to-Delhi ticket for June 1 is presently priced at Rs 2,036, and will be operated by Alliance Air, an Air India subsidiary.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoted this as an opportunity for more people, especially the “common man,” to access air travel. “Why should air services be only for the elite in this country? I told my officials that I want people wearing hawai chappals [inexpensive flip-flops] to be taking flights,” he said at the launch.

But even at these low prices, a considerable part of the population is unlikely to use air services as claimed by the prime minister.

Although India has seen a massive decline in poverty over the last two decades, 21.9% of its population still lives below the poverty line of Rs 816 per person per month in rural areas, and Rs 1,000 per capita per month in urban areas, according to government data.

Source: National Sample Survey Organisation, 2011-2012
Source: National Sample Survey Organisation, 2011-2012

The cost of a one-hour flight is nearly as much as the average monthly per-capita expenditure of Rs 2,629.65 in urban areas – where most airports are likely to be located – according to 2011-2012 data from the government’s National Sample Survey Office. The fare for non-subsidised tickets on the same flights could go as high as Rs 19,000, the Times of India reported.

Affordable for many...

In comparison, an air-conditioned bus operated by the Himachal Road Transport Corporation costs Rs 415 and takes 12 hours to reach Shimla from Delhi. There are no direct trains to Shimla – a regular berth in a train from Delhi to Kalka costs Rs 235, while an AC seat costs Rs 590, and the train takes about five hours. At Kalka, one needs to change trains, and Kalka to Shimla trains costs around Rs 300 and take another five hours.

“The biggest beneficiaries [of UDAN] will be businessmen and professionals in the interiors of India, who spend far more time and cost commuting to the big cities by road and rail,” Amber Dubey, partner and India head of aerospace and defence at the global consultancy KPMG told IndiaSpend.

Dubey said there are millions of Indians who can afford to pay Rs 2,500 for a 500km flight. “Tourism too will get a boost,” he added. “Many high-end tourists, especially the middle-aged, don’t prefer a place that doesn’t have convenient flight connections.”

...But not the poor

On average, Indians spent little – Rs 180 per person a month – in 2011-2012 on travel and transportation, and this includes money spent on transporting personal goods to and from the place of work, leave travel, as well as money spent on vehicles they own (including animal-drawn vehicles), National Sample Survey Office figures shows.

More recent National Sample Survey Office data show that it was mostly the upper quintile who used air transport in 2014-2015. Those spending less that Rs 2,500 a month spent Rs 133 or less on all modes of travel (including air travel) in a month. (Please note than the data from the 2011-2012 National Sample Survey Office and 2014-2015 and total monthly consumption numbers from 2014-2015 was unavailable).

Source: National Sample Survey Office
Source: National Sample Survey Office

Should the government subsidise air travel?

Through the UDAN programme, the government will subsidise a minimum of nine and a maximum of 40 seats on a flight. Underserved or unserved routes will be auctioned out and the lowest bidder will win a monopoly over the sector for three years. In return, they would have to operate at least three flights a week on the route, and a maximum of seven.Such support would be withdrawn after a three-year period, as by that time, the route is expected to become self-sustainable,” the government press release added.

For sectors that hold promise as future hubs of travel, but are not financially viable immediately, providing a fixed-period subsidy after choosing airlines through competitive bidding is absolutely justified, Dubey of KMPG said.

But analysts disagree on whether a subsidy for air travel makes economic sense.

Operating the programme is complicated, and depends heavily on coordination between the centre, state and the Airport Authority of India, said Mark Martin, founder of Martin Consulting, an aviation advisory firm.

“What if oil prices, which are relatively low currently, rise in the future?” he said, explaining that the cost of travel depends mostly on the cost of inputs like fuel, and the currency exchange rate, as most inputs used in air travel are imported. “Subsidies are fundamentally unsustainable,” Martin said, adding that given the variables, it may prove difficult to subsidise a sector even for three years.

This article first appeared on IndiaSpend, a data-driven and public-interest journalism non-profit.

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Swara Bhasker: Sharp objects has to be on the radar of every woman who is tired of being “nice”

The actress weighs in on what she loves about the show.

This article has been written by award-winning actor Swara Bhasker.

All women growing up in India, South Asia, or anywhere in the world frankly; will remember in some form or the other that gentle girlhood admonishing, “Nice girls don’t do that.” I kept recalling that gently reasoned reproach as I watched Sharp Objects (you can catch it on Hotstar Premium). Adapted from the author of Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn’s debut novel Sharp Objects has been directed by Jean-Marc Vallée, who has my heart since he gave us Big Little Lies. It stars the multiple-Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who delivers a searing performance as Camille Preaker; and Patricia Clarkson, who is magnetic as the dominating and dark Adora Crellin. As an actress myself, it felt great to watch a show driven by its female performers.

The series is woven around a troubled, alcohol-dependent, self-harming, female journalist Camille (single and in her thirties incidentally) who returns to the small town of her birth and childhood, Wind Gap, Missouri, to report on two similarly gruesome murders of teenage girls. While the series is a murder mystery, it equally delves into the psychology, not just of the principal characters, but also of the town, and thus a culture as a whole.

There is a lot that impresses in Sharp Objects — the manner in which the storytelling gently unwraps a plot that is dark, disturbing and shocking, the stellar and crafty control that Jean-Marc Vallée exercises on his narrative, the cinematography that is fluid and still manages to suggest that something sinister lurks within Wind Gap, the editing which keeps this narrative languid yet sharp and consistently evokes a haunting sensation.

Sharp Objects is also liberating (apart from its positive performance on Bechdel parameters) as content — for female actors and for audiences in giving us female centric and female driven shows that do not bear the burden of providing either role-models or even uplifting messages. 

Instead, it presents a world where women are dangerous and dysfunctional but very real — a world where women are neither pure victims, nor pure aggressors. A world where they occupy the grey areas, complex and contradictory as agents in a power play, in which they control some reigns too.

But to me personally, and perhaps to many young women viewers across the world, what makes Sharp Objects particularly impactful, perhaps almost poignant, is the manner in which it unravels the whole idea, the culture, the entire psychology of that childhood admonishment “Nice girls don’t do that.” Sharp Objects explores the sinister and dark possibilities of what the corollary of that thinking could be.

“Nice girls don’t do that.”

“Who does?”

“Bad girls.”

“So I’m a bad girl.”

“You shouldn’t be a bad girl.”

“Why not?”

“Bad girls get in trouble.”

“What trouble? What happens to bad girls?”

“Bad things.”

“What bad things?”

“Very bad things.”

“How bad?”

“Terrible!!!”

“Like what?”

“Like….”

A point the show makes early on is that both the victims of the introductory brutal murders were not your typically nice girly-girls. Camille, the traumatised protagonist carrying a burden from her past was herself not a nice girl. Amma, her deceptive half-sister manipulates the nice girl act to defy her controlling mother. But perhaps the most incisive critique on the whole ‘Be a nice girl’ culture, in fact the whole ‘nice’ culture — nice folks, nice manners, nice homes, nice towns — comes in the form of Adora’s character and the manner in which beneath the whole veneer of nice, a whole town is complicit in damning secrets and not-so-nice acts. At one point early on in the show, Adora tells her firstborn Camille, with whom she has a strained relationship (to put it mildly), “I just want things to be nice with us but maybe I don’t know how..” Interestingly it is this very notion of ‘nice’ that becomes the most oppressive and deceptive experience of young Camille, and later Amma’s growing years.

This ‘Culture of Nice’ is in fact the pervasive ‘Culture of Silence’ that women all over the world, particularly in India, are all too familiar with. 

It takes different forms, but always towards the same goal — to silence the not-so-nice details of what the experiences; sometimes intimate experiences of women might be. This Culture of Silence is propagated from the child’s earliest experience of being parented by society in general. Amongst the values that girls receive in our early years — apart from those of being obedient, dutiful, respectful, homely — we also receive the twin headed Chimera in the form of shame and guilt.

“Have some shame!”

“Oh for shame!”

“Shameless!”

“Shameful!”

“Ashamed.”

“Do not bring shame upon…”

Different phrases in different languages, but always with the same implication. Shameful things happen to girls who are not nice and that brings ‘shame’ on the family or everyone associated with the girl. And nice folks do not talk about these things. Nice folks go on as if nothing has happened.

It is this culture of silence that women across the world today, are calling out in many different ways. Whether it is the #MeToo movement or a show like Sharp Objects; or on a lighter and happier note, even a film like Veere Di Wedding punctures this culture of silence, quite simply by refusing to be silenced and saying the not-nice things, or depicting the so called ‘unspeakable’ things that could happen to girls. By talking about the unspeakable, you rob it of the power to shame you; you disallow the ‘Culture of Nice’ to erase your experience. You stand up for yourself and you build your own identity.

And this to me is the most liberating aspect of being an actor, and even just a girl at a time when shows like Sharp Objects and Big Little Lies (another great show on Hotstar Premium), and films like Veere Di Wedding and Anaarkali Of Aarah are being made.

The next time I hear someone say, “Nice girls don’t do that!”, I know what I’m going to say — I don’t give a shit about nice. I’m just a girl! And that’s okay!

Swara is a an award winning actor of the Hindi film industry. Her last few films, including Veere Di Wedding, Anaarkali of Aaraah and Nil Battey Sannata have earned her both critical and commercial success. Swara is an occasional writer of articles and opinion pieces. The occasions are frequent :).

Watch the trailer of Sharp Objects here:

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This article was published by the Scroll marketing team with Swara Bhasker on behalf of Hotstar Premium and not by the Scroll editorial team.