How govt hoodwinked the public
R K Misra
The new airport would start functioning by “May-end’’ and BIAL was “not agreeable to keep the existing (HAL) airport open’’. So said civil aviation secretary Ashok Chawla. This was a government representative announcing the decision to close HAL airport after a short meeting with BIAL.
It seems like Chawla was making this announcement on behalf of BIAL as its spokesperson. The tone was as if the government of India was begging BIAL.
These so-called negotiations were forced upon the government by an order of the Karnataka High Court and, subsequently, the Supreme Court. All along, it appeared as though government lawyers were making a case for BIAL.
When the high court forced their hands by asking them to negotiate, they had two friendly meetings among the shareholders of BIAL (of which the government owns 26%) in the guise of negotiations, without information, consultation or participation of other stakeholders such as the public, airlines and cargo companies.
An analysis of events will establish that it was a well-planned and calculated game played by the government. When public anger made parties fearful of losing votes during the Karnataka elections, the date of the airport opening was postponed to May 11, just the day after polls. A coincidence?
When the high court ordered negotiations, the first meeting was held just before the first round of elections. After the meeting, it was announced that 80-seater planes would be allowed to fly from HAL. The public felt happy as some grievances were solved. This was another clever ploy to give hope and fool the public. The moment the first round of polls (including in Bangalore) was over, negotiations were concluded the next day at a meeting, without any minutes, and the government announced the closure of HAL airport.
The opening date was conveniently slotted for May 23, which is just after the polls (to avoid the Election Commission’s wrath) and two days before the high court opens after the summer recess. This denies the public an opportunity to expose the negotiation drama and request the HC for an interim stay order.
Surprisingly, no leader is available for comment now. This is our democracy, where the public is being duped by seasoned politicians playing a well-orchestrated drama.
On May 5, the Supreme Court directed the Centre to consider a citizen group’s demand to keep the existing airport operational, given the apprehensions over reaching the new airport located 40 km from the city.
(The writer is winner of The Times of India’s Lead India initiative. These are his personal views).