Absence of international flights at the Chandigarh ‘international’ airport again riled up the Punjab and Haryana high court on Monday, and this time the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and the Union government were in the line of fire. “When you were not ready to start international flights, then why [were] Rs 1,400 crore spent to construct [a] new airport?” the court curtly asked. The airport was inaugurated in September last year.
The HC division bench of justices SS Saron and Raj Mohan Singh - while hearing a public interest litigation filed by the Mohali Industries Association (MIA) - gave the AAI 10 days to produce the entire schedule of how many international flights will operate and by when the operations would start. If that’s not done, the central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) will register an FIR to probe what the court has termed a scam.
This, in fact, was a climb-down from initial directions to the CBI to immediately register an FIR - “The scam is about the taxpayers’ money so CBI will investigate the matter,” said the bench - but upon AAI’s request for “one last chance” the court gave 10 days’ time.
“The flights that were operating from the old terminal are now operating from the new one, then why was the money wasted?” the court fumed.
When the AAI submitted that private carrier IndiGo would start international flights by March 27, but was currently battling shortage of planes, the court said, “We are not concerned with the policy or the procedure. All we see here is a common man being cheated; who were promised by the government that international flights would operate from this airport.”
After the initial CBI-probe directions bench had even said, “If the AAI has any objection to this direction, they can go to the Supreme Court.” However, while later granting 10 days until the next hearing of March 31, the court clearly stated that, “in case the AAI and the Union government fail to produce the schedule, then CBI would be instructed to register [an] FIR”.
IndiGo ready, conditions apply
The Airports Authority of India submitted before the high court on Monday that private airline IndiGo was ready to start international flights from Chandigarh from March 27. But it added a caveat: “As of now the airlines... is facing shortage of airplanes but they will soon start the flights.”
The court remarked that it wasn’t concerned with the procedure, yet it garnted 10 days to the AAI and the Union government to submit a schedule of which flights and when would be started.
What the HC bench said on Monday at the hearing on absence of international flights from the new Chandigarh airport
*When you were not ready to start international flights, then why [were] `1,400 crore spent to construct (a) new airport?
*The flights that were operating from the old terminal are now operating from the new one, then why was the money wasted?
*We are not concerned with the policy or the procedure. All we see here is a common man being cheated.
Flight of claims, and grounding rebuke
*The Chandigarh airport operates over 20 flights to destinations like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Srinagar. The new terminal inaugurated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on September 11 last is actually in Punjab’s SAS Nagar (Mohali) and became operational on October 19. Though the region has a large number of international travellers and non-resident Indians (NRIs), they have to depend mainly on Delhi and, to some extent, on the Amritsar airport.
*At a hearing last month, when the high court directed the Union ministry of civil aviation to file a status report on international operations from Chandigarh airport, the Punjab government had told the court that it had received proposals from Bulgarian carrier BH Air and FlyDubai seeking permission to start international flights. The Union government counsel too had said the ministry had written a letter to Air India as well to consider an international flight from the city airport.
*Even the Chandigarh airport authorities had said there were only four airlines in India out of total seven that carry out international operations; and six of them were already carrying out domestic operations from Chandigarh. “Many airlines interested in starting international flights have inspected the airport,” they told the court, adding, “There is no difference between a domestic and an international flight except the facility of immigration and customs area.
*The court had at the previous hearing come down heavily on Chandigarh airport chief executive officer (CEO) Sunil Dutt for filing a misleading affidavit in January, wherein he had submitted that international operations had already started, citing the landing of a plane carrying French President Francois Hollande during his visit to the city. “This is mockery… Are we kids here? Who has filed this affidavit? The high court is looking like a fool with this kind of affidavit,” the bench had stated.