M A I N   N E W S

Airport security plans in limbo as officials dither
Swati Chaturvedi

New Delhi, August 17
* Two years have passed since the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation decided to introduce a system of biometric screening at all the major metro airports. But despite the enormous security threat, the Airport Authority of India (AAI) is yet to decide on even the type of system it wants.

* A system of online screening of baggage was supposed to be introduced two years ago but the AAI has not even prepared the preliminary draft of the system.

* When an aircraft is on the descent mode, the pilot has no manual control at Mumbai airport. Even a rocket firework set off regularly in the adjoining slum cluster can bring down an aircraft. There have been several near misses but the AAI has been unable to clear the slum cluster.

Forget about learning any lessons from the recent experience at the Heathrow airport, it is a miracle that there have been no terrorist strikes at any Indian airport as a slumbering AAI and the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) refuse to learn any lessons.

Playing with people’s lives seems to be the mantra as records accessed by The Tribune reveal shocking lethargy and a complete inability to grasp the security threat.

Take the case of biometric screening widely considered the most effective way to vet perimeter security. Under biometric screening, for instance, a passenger walking into the mandatory security area will have his eyes matched against a data bank of eye profiles of known criminals. It can also be a scanned thumbprint.

Mr Praful Patel passed orders on the file asking the AAI to introduce the system two years ago. But till now no action has been taken and the AAI and the BCAS cannot even decide on the type of system they want.

“They are not even doing their basic job. They spend all their time lobbying with politicians as to why the AAI should not be privatised while even the most critical decisions remain unimplemented,’’ says a joint secretary in the ministry. The Ministry of Home Affairs has been crying hoarse over the ever-present threat to the runway at Mumbai airport, which is the country’s busiest. A rocket launcher fired from the slum cluster that adjoins the runway can bring down even a jumbo. Yet, the AAI officially claims it is unable to take any action. Since removing the slum is a political hot potato, it has not taken any step in this regard.

Nowadays, x- ray screening of baggage is considered outdated. It is not enough to deal with the security threat. Yet, the AAI and the BCAS remain blithe. Though two years have passed, the plan to introduce online scanning of baggage has not been introduced.

When contacted by The Tribune, Mr Patel said, “I have taken the decisions. I cannot single-handedly implement them”. For the record, no action has been taken against any official for the crucial delay. Until the suggested security systems are put in place, flying in India remains a risky venture.

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





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