Friday , 25 September 2020

Parliamentary panel slams Civil Aviation ministry for HAL and Begumpet closure

The Sunday Times of India has published an article detailing the slamming of the Ministry of Civil Aviation by the Standing Parliamentary Committee on Transport and Tourism.

Minister for Civil Aviation, Mr. Praful Patel, frequently flies in to Bangalore HAL airport, on board an aircraft owned by Delhi and Hyderabad airport promoters GMR.

HAL airport closure violated

In a damning rebuke to the central government, a parliamentary panel has stated that the closure of HAL airport was a clear violation of the due process. The department-related parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture headed by Sitaram Yechury said in its report, a copy of which is available with the STOI (Sunday Times of India), “The closure of HAL airport was not mentioned in the tender for Bengaluru Greenfield Airport. Naturally, all the parties who participated in the tender process would have made their offers on this basis only. Making an offer of closure of HAL Airport after the Notice Inviting Tender (NIT), appears to be a clear violation of the due process,” the report that was presented to the Rajya Sabha and laid on the table of the Lok Sabha explains.

As regards the restriction on having another airport within 150 km of the existing airport, granting permission to start a new Greenfield Airport within that radius prima facie seems to be in violation of the government policy on airport infrastructure.

As per the policy, if another airport is allowed within an aerial distance of 150 km of an existing airport, a passenger-sharing formula has to be evolved. The government in the present case, not only allowed the new airport to share passengers but also closed down the existing profit-making airports. The closure of existing airports has been done in haste, the report objected.

“The Government of India appears to be unconcerned about the obligation of BIAL to construct and provide an airport as per the concession agreement. Even the area and capacity were not verified before permitting to open new and closing HAL airport. This appears to be an irregularity committed by GOI in this matter,” the committee has also stated.

“Hundreds of crores of rupees were spent for developing infrastructure at the old airports both at Bengaluru and Hyderabad but it is lying unutilised due to the closure of old airports for commercial purposes. Another interesting fact is that the old airports at these two places are being used for operation of VIP flights, non-schedule flights, general aviation and helicopter taxis etc.

During the deliberations of committee, the AAI reported that there is absolutely no problem in operating of two airports simultaneously in a city. So, the committee recommends that the old airports may be used for short-haul flights, which are operating from the nearby airports, as it is more convenient. There is no reason or justification for keeping the hundreds of crores of worth infrastructure at the old airports idle just to be used for VIP and other flights.

The committee also notes that closure of HAL airport led to loss of jobs due to reduction in flights and due to closure of airline operators. Thousands of direct and indirect workers also lost their jobs including trolley retrievers, small time vendor, taxi drivers, auto drivers, loaders etc. Despite assurances by the respective managements they have not been accommodated in the new airports.

“Commercial Civil aviation activities are continuing in the Bangalore HAL with the consent of the management of BIAL and GOI, whereas the concessional Agreement and the notification issued by the GOI clearly prohibits any commercial aviation activity. This shows that if the government wants, they can operationalise the old airports not withstanding the agreement.

The paragraph of the article is in clear reference to the air taxi service operated by Air Deccan.

It appears the folks at Praja have obtained the minutes of the meetings of the Steering Committee for the new International Airport at Devanahalli (which has now become Bengaluru International Airport), under the Right To Information Act. I strongly suggest visiting the site and studying the document. It is an eye opener and provides a wealth of information on the thinking of the government.

In particular, I was rather shocked to read the minutes of the eighth meeting. It was interesting to see the unfair, but clever, tactics, the eventual winner, the Siemens consortium, used to eliminate the competition, rather than beat them.

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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