M A I N   N E W S

Ministers fight over bid for airport work
Swati Chaturvedi

New Delhi, December 23
A complete division has emerged in the empowered group of ministers set up to deal with the vexed restructuring of the Delhi and Mumbai airports.

Highly placed sources say that during the last meeting of the group, which was stormy, to say the least, two groups emerged and the Union Defence Minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, was forced to refer the matter to a committee of secretaries headed by the Cabinet Secretary.

Allegations were traded that the process had been reduced to a complete farce since there were only two bidders left which would ensure that each would get one airport. A senior minister is believed to have said that the entire process of bidding should be opened again to bring an element of competition to the process.

The group consists of six ministers, the Union Finance Minister, Mr P Chidambaram, the Commerce and Industry Minister, Mr Kamalnath, the Civil Aviation Minister, Mr Praful Patel and the Law Minister, Mr H R Bhardwaj. The Vice-Chairman of the Planning Commission, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia, is a special invitee.

Sources reveal that Mr Patel and Mr Chidambaram seemed to be in a “tearing hurry” to go ahead, with Mr Bhardwaj acquiescing in Mr Chidambaram’s repeated claim that the “two-bidder” scenario was entirely legal. Mr Kamalnath and Mr Ahluwalia are learnt to have objected, questioning the “political wisdom” of leaving only two bidders in the fray. A senior minister is believed to have quipped: “Legally, it is all very well but can we justify it politically and to the people”? There is a growing perception, especially among the Left parties, that some ministers in the group are leaning towards a large industrial house. The deliberations at the meeting suggest that these parties are not wide of the mark.

With the group of ministers clearly split and not budging an inch from their positions, the Defence Minister was forced to refer the matter to a committee, which means that the December 31 deadline will be missed.

Experts say there is merit in the dissenter’s views since there is virtually no competition left. Says an expert, “We will be left with third class airports if Mexico is adopted as the model.”. Says a minister who is part of the group, “We are doing precisely what we are accusing the NDA of having done when it went in for divestment”.

The writer is an anchor with Janmat TV, who regularly writes for The Tribune


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