Flights delayed, services hit; it's chaos at airports

AAI employees are on an indefinite strike following Govt?s decision to privatise Mumbai and Delhi airports. Pics

india Updated: Feb 01, 2006 22:11 IST

Several flights were rescheduled, delayed and passenger services at major airports were affected following the indefinite nation-wide strike by thousands of employees of the state-owned Airports Authority of India (AAI).

However, officials have claimed that flights across the country operated smoothly.

The employees are protesting privatisation of Mumbai and Delhi airports.

Baggage handling has also been affected at various airports due to the strike and airlines have advised passengers to travel light.

Following unrest, airfields close to Delhi and Mumbai have been put on alert.

All flights to and from Kolkata were cancelled during day. The Air Traffic Control (ATC), which had earlier issued notice that flights could neither land nor take off, have withdrawn the notice. Some flights are expected to take off.

Slogan-shouting employees left their offices at the NSC Bose International Airport in building in Kolkata and demonstrated in front of the airport director's office.

AAI Employees Union Secretary and Spokesman of the Joint Forum of the Airports Employees Union, Dipankar Ghosh, said more than 2000 AAI employees have joined the strike.

CPI(M) MP Amitava Nandy addressed the demonstrators in front of the terminal building and said the Leftist parties are supporting the AAI employees in their agitation.

In Delhi, passenger services were disrupted at the Indira Gandhi International Airport. Around 2,000 employees of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), working in different shifts, blocked the roads outside the airport and resorted to sloganeering against the Government move.

Lathicharge at Mumbai Airport

In Mumbai, flight schedules were uninterrupted but there was chaos outside the airport as thousands of AAI employees clashed with the police.

Around 50 employees, including women, were injured when the police chased away the strikers with batons.

The employees, protesting the award of contracts for modernising the Mumbai and Delhi airports being given to private parties, laid siege to the main entrance of the Mumbai Airport and shouted slogans against the central government.

The power supply is back in Mumbai domestic airport after a total power cut.

More than 90 per cent of the airport employees are participating in the strike.

"We were expressing our displeasure against the government policies peacefully when the police assaulted us. Several of us, including our women comrades, have been injured," Nitin Jadhav, Joint Secretary of the Mumbai Airport Employees' Union, said.

"We will continue to agitate despite the suppression," Jadhav said.

The injured employees were taken to the airport terminal and provided first aid.

Mumbai Airport Director R Treasurywallah said the baton charge became necessary when the strikers refused to clear the main entrance to the airport.

"Passengers are coming, boarding their planes and the flights are taking off on time. Needless to say, the strike has not affected flights till now," he said.

Govt may invoke ESMA

The government has warned that it could look into the possibility of invoking the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) if the strike by Airport Authority of India employees continues for a longer period.

"As of now there is no plan to impose ESMA. We are watching the situation. If required, we will think about it," Civil Aviation Secretary Ajay Prasad said.

"We do not want to invoke harsh measures against the employees of Airport Authority of India. We are talking to them to ensure that there is no disruption of air traffic," Prasad said.

Significantly, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had on Tuesday denied proposing invoking of ESMA against the protesting employees.

Prasad said the ministry has not made any direct contact with the employee unions since the strike began on Wednesday morning.

"We had a meeting with the unions day before Tuesday. We went into all the issues and told them the restructuring of the two airports will not affect jobs," he said, adding, "Not a single individual will lose job."

"The Minister had made an appeal on Tuesday to the employees and we hope that they will cooperate," he added.

First Published: Feb 01, 2006 00:32 IST