Political cloud over take-off
14 Mar 2008, 0110 hrs IST,
Anil Kumar M & Anshul Dhamija, TNN
BANGALORE: There is a strong political hand overlooking the opening of Bengaluru International Airport (BIA). The Centre, on Thursday, officially communicated to Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) that it should consider an opening date after May 10 – which coincides with the planned state elections.
State Congress leaders are believed to have pressurised the Centre to postpone the opening date. By way of a response to the Centre, the BIAL issued a press release on Thursday, proposing May 11 as the opening date.
Karnataka Congress leaders met the prime minister a couple of days back, urging that HAL airport be retained for a few months till connectivity problems with respect to BIA are resolved. Meanwhile, the party high command is personally overseeing developments and is in touch with the civil aviation minister.
If connectivity issues are resolved soon, Congress expects to use it as a political weapon against JD (S) and BJP. Congress would like to argue that their joint government merely proceeded on setting up BIA without doing anything about how to reach it.
Delimitation is also weighing on the minds of the state party leadership. Bangalore urban district will have 28 assembly constituencies as a result of this exercise, against 16 at present. A botched opening can backfire for the party, just as a successful exercise can enable it to score over its rivals.
The fact that BIA, unlike its counterpart in Hyderabad, will charge user fees from domestic passengers from Day One does not inspire political confidence.
A blame game is also being played out at the Centre, between Congress-led UPA and BJP-led NDA. Congress is blaming NDA for inking deals for the new airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad with private parties. “In future we will not enter into deals where we have to close down old infrastructure,” a source close to the civil aviation minister said.
Meanwhile, the ostensible reasons being offered for a delayed opening are quite different. Stating that facilities within the ATC tower are not complete, the Centre has dashed off a letter directing BIAL to “consider a suitable date after May 10 for the airport opening”. The earlier inauguration date for BIA was March 30.
“As ATC services will not be available by March 30, the date has to be put off,” the letter said.
The civil aviation ministry, which only the other day said the airport opening would be put off by four weeks or the last week of April, seemed to change tack. It pointed out that construction of ATC facilities – control tower, technical block, office accommodation of AAI personnel and issues like electricity supply, house-keeping, air-conditioning – prompted it to
ask the BIAL to fix a date after May 10.
BIAL made its frustration with the ministry’s actions amply clear: “We are clearly disappointed with this delay, especially as our employees and all our partners have been working tirelessly to launch BIA on schedule on March 30. This delay is beyond the control of BIAL. To mark the successful readiness of airport infrastructure, BIAL will hold an event to showcase the new airport on March 28.”
While all central government agencies responsible for the performance of key functions at the airport had confirmed their readiness for March 30, Airports Authority of India expressed reservations about ATC being ready by that date.