AAI employees threaten strike over privatisation move

New Delhi: Opposing the government's airports privatisation plan, Airports Authority Employees Union (AAEU) has threatened to renew its agitation including a strike call if the move is not halted.

The AAEU, in a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju recently, has also alleged that the decision to privatise the development, operations and management of four more airports - Chennai, Kolkata, Jaipur and Ahmedabad - violates the Tripartite Committee recommendations, which have already been accepted by the government long back.

The copies of the letter have also been marked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Finance Minister, AAI chairman, Chief Labour Commissioner and the Parliamentary panel for Transport, Culture and Tourism.

"If the government does not give us a proper hearing, we shall be constrained to take to recourse to industrial action and call for a general strike in AAI," the union said in the letter.

The decision is detrimental to the interests of not only AAI employees but also air travelling public, it said.

"The services provided at private airports come at a high price, as has been experienced with all the existing private airports where costs borne by the air travelers are much higher in comparison to the AAI-managed airports, where quality service is equally available at a much cheaper price," the union said.

It may be noted here that travelling from Delhi, Hyderabad, Mumbai and Bengaluru airports has become highly expensive ever since they have gone to the private players - namely the GMR and GVK groups.

The fresh agitation threat by the AAI employees comes following the NDA government taking a U-turn on the airport privatisation policy.

The erstwhile UPA government had proposed to privatise six airports - Chennai, Kolkata, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow and Guwahati. In 2013, it had floated a global tender to give management contract for these airports. However, the move did not take off as the then government went into election mode.

Taking the previous government agenda forward despite a stiff opposition from the AAI union, the new government had said it would privatise only Ahmedabad and Jaipur airports and not hand over Chennai and Kolkata airports to the private corporates as it has already invested public money to the tune of Rs around 5,000 crore in their modernisation and upgrade.

The government, however, in a departure from earlier stand, early this month invited private domestic and overseas firms to operate, manage and develop the Chennai, Kolkata, Jaipur and Ahmedabad airports. But it left out Guwahati and Lucknow airports from the agenda as besides loss-making these airports also do not have enough volumes to attract private players.

Even in the draft aviation policy announced last year, the government had stated that management contracts will be issued for the Kolkata and Chennai airports and the privatisation of Guwahati and Lucknow airports has been put on hold.

Government's airport privatisation policy also came under criticism recently by the global airlines body, International Air Transport Association (IATA), which has often termed Indian airports as one of the most "expensive" ones.

Observing that privatisation is not a "panacea" and does not solve all the problems, IATA Director general and chief executive Tony Tyler had said, "There are very successful airports run by Governments and private companies, while there are very expensive and inefficient airports too run by governments and private sector."

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