The utter chaotic state of affairs at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi doesn’t seem to mirror the more optimistic account provided by the Prime Minister during a recent Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) gathering. At the Ficci meet, Manmohan Singh had boldly stated how we were to see two brand new international airports going into operation in Hyderabad and Bangalore “in a few weeks” and how “Delhi and Mumbai too are seeing a transformation of their airport infrastructure”. He added that wherever he travelled, he saw new airport terminals under construction. “I think that civil aviation is on the right track.” It most certainly is. But the period of transition — when modernisation and renovation is underway at the Delhi airport — is proving to be extremely unsettling for flyers. Pardon the mixed metaphor, but to reach the light at end of the tunnel in Delhi, do we really have to stick it out in the mud?
Passengers now have to reach the airport fours hours in advance to catch their flights. Worse, it takes one hour to just get into the airport. Disturbingly, there are reports of people fainting due to the claustrophobic conditions caused by the ongoing construction work. The elderly, handicapped and passengers with children are suffering the most.
Unless checked, all of this could snowball into the worst possible publicity for the airport modernisation and renovation process. This process got underway in Delhi and Mumbai through public-private partnerships after a protracted struggle. The Delhi International Airport Ltd, the airport operator, has to complete the enhanced facilities at the existing facility, including the development of new terminals and runways by March 2010. While there is a warrant for speedy execution of this project, the process need not cause so much discomfort to passengers. The need of the moment is for better planning to ensure that renovation and modernisation take place in parallel with the efficient functioning of the existing facility without making life difficult for passengers.