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A controversy erupted on Wednesday as the government was believed to have asked private airlines to give special privileges such as lounge access and faster security clearance to members of Parliament. While the government later denied it issued any such guidelines, several politicians denounced the move for not being in sync with the times.
According to a reply to a Parliament question in August last year, a 2007 protocol is “to be followed by all concerned, including private airports and airlines” to provide special treatment to the lawmakers.
The protocol includes reserved lounge facilities, complimentary tea, coffee and water, free access to airport buildings and designation of one officer of the airports as protocol officer to extend all facilities and courtesies to the MPs.
Following numerous complaints by MPs that private airlines were not adhering to the protocol, the civil aviation ministry has been reminding the carriers to extend the courtesies.
As criticism mounted over such privileges, the ministry on Wednesday went into damage control mode, saying no fresh directive had been issued to airlines to provide special privileges to MPs.
Civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said no “fresh guidelines” were issued, but added, “There may have been a circular in 2007...I am not aware what exactly it says”.
“You are saying fresh guidelines have been issued. No such guidelines have been issued,” he said.
Chief of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) — country's aviation regulator — also claimed no such directives were issued.
Air India is the only airline which currently extends special privileges to the MPs.
Slamming the step taken for special treatment to the MPs, Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah said it reflected “a special kind of disconnect with the reality”, an apparent reference to demands for austerity from the political class.
Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam said he did not support any such move. "I think it is better to travel like a common man. Moreover, our MPs already get executive class tickets. So, if they want something bigger than this, I feel it is not necessary.”
Heavy industries minister Praful Patel, meanwhile, said: “The whole issue of privileges to MPs by Air India or private carriers is blown out of proportion. There was nothing even earlier to suggest that there was preferential treatment.”