BIAL airport faces probe by legislators

New Bangalore airport faces probe by legislators
August 10th, 2008 ICT by IANs

By Vishwanath Karnic

Bangalore, Aug 10 (IANS) The two-month old Bangalore international airport, a Rs. 25-billion ($625-million) greenfield project, faces a probe by a Karnataka legislators’ panel over alleged deviation in design and lack of sufficient facilities for passengers as well as visitors. “The new airport is no better than an ordinary bus stand”, “It is substandard”, “There is no proper seating arrangements for passengers and visitors” – these are the terms in which state legislators and ministers describe the new airport.

A consortium of Unique Zurich Airport, Siemens Project Ventures and Larsen & Toubro (L&T) has built the airport, with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Karnataka government as minority stakeholders.

“There has been deviation from the architecture, style and design. It does not add to the image of Bangalore. There are no proper facilities for passengers and visitors,” Congress legislator D.K. Shivakumar, who raised the issue in the state assembly last week, told IANS.

Legislators from other parties supported him. The Bharatiya Janata Party government agreed to set up a committee of members from both the assembly and the council to probe the lapses. The panel is to be set up soon.

“I have raised the issue based on my personal experience at the airport and also because of complaints I have received from several people,” Shivakumar said.

“As a representative of the people I cannot sit quietly,” he said when asked why the alleged deviation and lack of facilities are being raised now, more than two months after the airport began operations.

“I am a former urban development minister. The design of the airport is different from what was approved,” Shivakumar charged.

When asked if there was any scope to change the design now, he insisted: “There are lots of possibilities to improve. It can be done. The legislators’ panel will decide that.”

On Wednesday Minister for IT and BT, Katta Subramanya Naidu, called the new airport, about 40 km north of the city centre, “a poor cousin to other airports of international standards, including the New Delhi and Hyderabad airports.

“The new airport was expected to enhance Bangalore’s image and also that of Karnataka. But it is nowhere near the expectation one had from it.”

He said if the airport management does not upgrade the facilities to international standards, the state government may invite others to take up the job.

While the management declined comment on the move for a probe by the legislators’ panel and Naidu’s near-threat, the response from industry and trade organisations was lukewarm.

“It is a ticklish question. It is better if we leave these issues to the judgement of users,” said D. Muralidhar, president of the Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

“Personally I think facilities are good. However, scope for improvement is always there,” he said.

“It is a new airport. Some questions (regarding facilities) do get raised when we tend to compare it with other international airports. At the same time we need to understand that facilities are far better than at the old airport,” Muralidhar said.

T. Ramappa, secretary general of the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce, shared Muralidhar’s views.

“Personally I don’t think it is so bad,” he said.

“I have used it twice and I did not have any problems. Of course there certainly is room for improvement,” Ramappa said.

The airport began operations May 24 after three failed starts in the previous two months. The promoter operator – Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) — had to settle for a soft launch because the Election Commission’s model code of conduct was in force as assembly elections were on in Karnataka.

Marred by controversies, litigations, protests and cost over-runs, the much-awaited launch was put off thrice (March 28, May 11 and May 23) due to delays in setting up the air traffic control, training operators, government clearances and finally the poll panel’s directive.

With the opening of the new airport, the 50-year-old state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) airport in the city was shut for civilian traffic despite protests by corporate honchos of the new economy against its closure.

However, Naidu said the state government will ensure HAL airport stays as there are a number of cities with two airports. “We will take up the matter with the central government,” he said.

According to the Concession Agreement between BIAL promoters and the Indian government no airport can operate within 150 km of the new Bangalore international airport.

About Devesh Agarwal

A electronics and automotive product management, marketing and branding expert, he was awarded a silver medal at the Lockheed Martin innovation competition 2010. He is ranked 6th on Mashable's list of aviation pros on Twitter and in addition to Bangalore Aviation, he has contributed to leading publications like Aviation Week, Conde Nast Traveller India, The Economic Times, and The Mint (a Wall Street Journal content partner). He remains a frequent flier and shares the good, the bad, and the ugly about the Indian aviation industry without fear or favour.

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