The Punjab and Haryana high court on Thursday lambasted the Central government and the Airports Authority of India (AAI) for failing to start international flights from Chandigarh international airport and remarked that if they were unable to start operations, it should be turned into a wheat store.
Prime minister Narendra Modi had inaugurated the airport on September 11 during his visit to the city.
However, international flights are yet to commence even as over Rs 1,400 crore has been spent on new airport terminal and requisite infrastructure by the Centre, Punjab and other stakeholders.
Appearing for the ministry of civil aviation, assistant solicitor general, Chetan Mittal told the high court bench that Air India and Indigo had agreed to start operations.
“It would take Indigo 45 days to start flights after customs and immigration facilities are in place at airport,” he told the court. At this, Puneet Bali who is the counsel for the petitioners’, the Mohali Industry Association, intervened and stated that a timeline should be fixed, otherwise the respondents would come up with the same excuses on the next date of hearing.
“Use it for wheat storage, if you are unable to start operations. It is not the high court’s job to get into it (pass directions to start operations). Shift operations to old terminal and close the new one,” the high court bench of justice SS Saron and justice Gurmit Ram observed, miffed over the response of government further stating that it was a typical bureaucratic reply and court did not “trust” the officers.
Mittal told the high court bench that a meeting chaired by secretary civil aviation had been held in which Indigo and Air India had agreed to start flights.
The court was informed that ministry of home affairs had given the go ahead for standard operating procedure to Air India to commence combo flights (involving two local destinations) to international destinations from Chandigarh.
Indigo wanted to start flight in summer schedule. It planned to start operation on Mumbai- Dubai-Chandigarh-Delhi sectors and Delhi Chandigarh-Dubai Mumbai Sectors, Mittal said.
“If they are unable to obtain slots at Mumbai airport they would replace Mumbai with Hyderabad to start. The aviation secretary has asked the airline to commence operations. Indigo could start operations within 45 days from the date of customs and immigration facility at airport,” he said adding that once two three Indian carriers were there, other international airlines would show their interest seeing good response.
Following the submissions, the high court bench directed the AAI to set up immigration and customs facility by April 25.
The high court further directed the AAI and centre to file a status report on steps taken to start international operations.
‘Two-month training Needed’
AAI counsel Atul Nanda submitted a report that at least two months were required to train immigration staff, even if the facility is set up at the airport. Minutes of a meeting were also put on record on substantiate this.
According to the minutes, the Punjab government has said it would give 17 officers for the purpose. The training is to be given by the Bureau of Intelligence (BoI). Punjab has been asked to bear the cost of deployment for now and get reimbursement from the MHA.