People's Democracy(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)
April 22, 2007
‘Stop Back Door Privatisation Of Airports’
SITARAM Yechury, leader of the CPI(M) group and chairman, department-related parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture, noted with regret that even after ten months of the decision taken at a meeting held under the chairmanship of the prime minister, nothing seems to be progressing further on the modernisation of Kolkata Airport.
In a letter written to prime minister on April 17, Yechury strongly criticised the Planning Commission’s suggestion that the Kolkata airport should be modernised by a to be newly constituted subsidiary of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and airports at Chennai and 35 other non-metro cities be developed with private sector participation. He sought prime minister’s intervention to stop such a move saying “One cannot understand the rationale of such a decision. This can only further delay the modernisation of the Kolkata Airport. Naturally justifiable apprehensions arise whether such a decision has been taken in order to facilitate the future process of privatisation of the Kolkata Airport. If this were so then this surely constitutes a process that is designed to sabotage the decision taken by the Committee on Infrastructure.”
Consequent to the decision of handing over the modernisation of the Delhi and Mumbai Airports to private parties, the Committee on Infrastructure at its 12th meeting on June 8, 2006, chaired by prime minister had decided that the issue of modernisation of Kolkata and Chennai Airports would be proceeded on the basis of discussions with the respective state governments. Subsequently the government of West Bengal had formally communicated that the modernisation of Kolkata Airport be undertaken by the Airport Authority of India. The AAI had made a presentation on this issue to the West Bengal government and it was informed that the process of tendering etc., have also reached an advanced stage. But, Yechury noted, regrettably there is no further progress.
Expressing dismay at the delay in communicating decisions by the ministry, he said that the ministry of civil aviation communicated to the chairman, Airports Authority of India on March 15, 2007 that the modernisation of the 35 non-Metro airports will be undertaken by the AAI. “It is indeed strange that a decision to the same effect taken on June 8, 2006 is officially communicated on March 15, 2007. Such delays only fuel further apprehensions similar to those stated above,” said Yechury.
Yechury wrote that the Planning Commission in its April 4, 2007 meeting decided amongst others, the strategy for development of 35 non-metro airports, especially the possibilities of taking up a few of these airports through PPP/corporate route. This, he said, would directly contradict the decision of the Committee on Infrastructure of June 8, 2006 under the chairmanship of the prime minister.
Raising fears at the serious consideration of the Planning Commission to set up an independent government corporation to operate Air Traffic Control services, Yechury said that this move would mean separation of ATC services from AAI and would be disastrous as ATC provides the AAI with surpluses which are utilised for modernisation of airports and services. “By such a separation what is being ensured is that the AAI would be reduced to a chronic loss making enterprise raising once again apprehensions of its future privatisation,” he said.
Sitaram Yechury exhorted the government that the modernisation of our airports and services requires to be undertaken on war footing given the acute congestion of our skies and the potential for grave accidents that keep rising by the day. He further requested the prime minister to personally intervene to ensure that the decisions taken nearly a year ago, under his chairmanship are not deliberately delayed and derailed. “This is absolutely imperative to give confidence to the country and the people about the competence and quality of governance under the UPA,” he said.
Meanwhile, CITU president M K Pandhe has also written to prime minister on “disquieting reports” about a directive issued by the deputy chairman of the Planning Commission to Airports Authority of India to modernise the Kolkata Airport through joint venture route and Chennai Airport through public-private-partnership route.
He reminded the prime minister about the assurance given to the representatives of the Left parties, when they met him in connection with modernisation of Delhi and Mumbai Airports, that all remaining airports would be modernised by the Airports Authority of India.
“This arbitrary directive issued by the Planning Commission has shocked all the employees of Airports Authority of India and they will certainly oppose the move of the Planning Commission. The central trade unions cannot take the position of silent spectator if the government of India decides to go back from the commitment given to them”, wrote Pandhe.
Requesting the prime minister to take immediate steps to stop the arbitrary directive issued by the Planning Commission, Pandhe said the Planning Commission should not be allowed to become another power centre in the country.
He also requested the prime minister to direct the civil aviation ministry to make serious efforts towards functioning of the Tripartite Committee to consider the question of modernisation of other airports and employee related problems of Airports Authority of India.