The Sports Ministry’s ‘verbal’ directive to the national sports federations that they can only fly Air India, the national carrier, has the National Rifle Association of India (NRAI) in a quandary.
The shooting team is scheduled to participate in the Asian Clay Championship at Almaty, Kazakhstan from September 21-29, but the very thought of boarding the flight is giving the shotgun shooters sleepless nights. “There is a direct Air Astana flight to Almaty which takes just four hours, but thanks to the ministry’s directive, we can only fly Air India even if it means that we reach our destination after more than 20 hours,” said a trap marksman.
“Not just that, there is a huge — perhaps three times — difference in air fare. While a direct Air Astana ticket costs in the range of Rs 26,000, an Air India flight via Tashkent or Dubai is almost Rs 60,000,” he said.
HT’s air travel bureau too confirmed the above-mentioned fares. With 22-odd marksmen and some coaches making up the contingent, the price difference can well be imagined.
“This is ridiculous. With a stopover of more than 12 hours in Dubai and the hassles relating to special gun and ammunition permits, how can we expect our shooters to be at the range fit and ready to fire after such an ordeal the day before,” questioned NRAI secretary-general Baljeet Singh Sethi.
“Balmer & Lawrie (the ticketing agency) has charted the flight via Dubai. Does it make sense to travel to Dubai on Air India and then board some other airline to reach Almaty at more than double the cost. And after 20 hours?” he asked.
I Sriniwas, the ministry’s joint secretary, said: “Wherever feasible, the national carrier has to be given patronage. It is an established concept all over the world that the national carrier flies its national teams.”
On the fare difference, he said: “It is a wrong perception. There are hundreds of things which have to be taken into account. I don’t think there is such a big difference…it’s a competitive world. If there is some issue with a team, it can be taken up,” Sriniwas said.
Clearly, a case of the ministry being off-target.