No flight hit
New Delhi, March 12
“Operations in major airports are normal,” a senior civil aviation ministry official said as the agitation by the Airport Authority of India Employees Joint Forum began at midnight to protest the closure of airports in Bangalore and Hyderabad.
In Kolkata, flights took off on schedule basic services at the NSC Bose international airport were badly hit. Passengers complained of dirty toilets, non-availability of trolleys and hitches at conveyor belts at baggage screening points. Lounges were littered with paper, food waste and used paper glasses as waste bins overflowed. Passengers avoided using stinking toilets and lavatories, while there was also a fear of disruption in normal power supply. They complained that drinking water was not available regularly and the air-conditioning was functioning erratically.
“We were apprehensive that it will be chaotic, but surprisingly everything was smooth,” said A. Srivastva, a passenger who arrived in Delhi from Mumbai. The airport employees forum claimed about 14,000 employees were on “indefinite non-cooperation movement” since midnight and that operations at 127 airports had been affected.
Security was beefed up as the government deployed 479 Air Force personnel in 21 key airports across the country and invoked ESMA at the Delhi airport in the wake of the strike call.
Flight operations in the National Capital were unaffected. Over 250 flights arrived and 125 departed from the Delhi airport.
The airport employees staged a demonstration in front of the arrival terminal of the Delhi airport shouting anti-government slogans. They
said they would not handle ground services until the airport management looked into their demands.
About 2,000 workers at the Mumbai airport had not reported for work since the strike began, but it did not affect the operations, airport officials said.
In Chennai, flights operations were normal at both domestic and international airports. Flights from Chennai to Delhi, Port Blair, Kolkata, Bangalore and Coimbatore left on schedule. International flights to the Gulf and Britain took off on time, officials said.
In Parliament, the government ruled out going back on its decision to close the existing airports in Hyderabad and Bangalore. “On its part, the government is obliged to close down all commercial civil aviation operations at the existing airports once the new airports are made operational,” civil aviation minister Praful Patel said in the Lok Sabha.
As soon as Praful Patel made his statement in the House, members belonging to the Left parties got up to press for a discussion on the issue. Members of other parties including the Samajwadi Party backed their demand for a clarification on the government’s decision. The members wanted the government to clarify as to why it wanted to close down two already running airports as the trial run of the new Greenfield airports was to begin from March 16.
The angry protests and uproar compelled Lok Sabha panel Speaker Varkala Radhakrishnan to adjourn the House for the day. Radhakrishanan maintained that it was not the tradition to allow any other discussion once the House had taken up the discussion on the Budget.
The civil aviation minister, however, promised to fully protect the interests of Airports Authority of India (AAI) employees at Bangalore and Hyderabad. He said the existing airports would continue to remain operational for general aviation, defence purposes and national emergencies. Apart from this, all reserved activities as security, immigration, customs and air traffic control would continue to be under government control at the new airports.