It is no secret that the conditions in many of our airports are abysmal. To make matters worse, the problems are not being addressed in any meaningful manner. The issue of airport privatisation has been up in the air for quite a while now. Wherever it has actually worked — the airport in Mumbai being a sterling example — the results of privatisation have been there for all to see. Today’s conditions are not the creation of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel but a legacy of earlier regimes. However, what the difference of views between Mr Patel and Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission Montek Singh Ahluwalia over the modernisation process of Delhi Airport highlights is the fact that something has to be done — and done fast.
Airports, especially in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, are the gateways to the country, and it is important that these are welcoming to people coming in. The issue of privatisation has not been resolved. But it isn’t only the Delhi International Airport Ltd. (Dial) — or any other private player — that is to blame for the appalling conditions. The Bureau of Immigration (under the Ministry of Home Affairs), for one, is yet to provide more counters to cater to a rising traffic. This has led to serpentine lines for international passengers. Then there is the Home Ministry again dragging its feet about letting more Central Reserve Police Force personnel man the airport gates. As a result, many of these entry points have remained shut, adding to the misery that starts at the very beginning of any plane journey. The Government of India, therefore, also needs to do its bit to mop up the mess.
So far, all we have seen is a half-hearted privatisation scheme. Several proposals to shift traffic from major airports have been pending for a while. Thanks largely to the Left, even the issue of streamlining existing airports have not really worked. Mr Patel’s letter to Mr Ahluwalia has rightly raised the point of the shadowy areas that lie between planning and execution. Mr Ahluwalia is also rightly incensed over what he found lacking in Delhi’s airport. We recommend that he takes a serious look at his task as part of the panel that has been awarding contracts for airport privatisation and put a timeline on projects. This will be of immense service to harried passengers who have to deal with the horrific conditions in airports, domestic or international.