Flights on, but chaos worsens

Around 22,000 AAI employees struck work on Wednesday, protesting the privatisation of the Delhi and Mumbai airports.

india Updated: Feb 04, 2006 13:11 IST

Stinking toilets and piling garbage was the story at major airports in India on Friday as a massive strike by thousands of employees continued for the third day, though most flight services were unaffected.

While the filth at the airports, be it in Delhi, Mumbai or Kolkata, shocked foreign visitors, mounting inconvenience caused by the strike -- overflowing washrooms and lack of baggage handlers among other things -- left even the seasoned domestic traveller horrified.

"Look at the state of the amenities, they are stinking. You just cannot use them," Manju Kedia, who came from Ahmedabad to meet her daughter who stays in Delhi, said. "There is no water and the place is in a mess."

Singer Usha Uthup, who arrived in Kolkata from Patna, said the situation was pathetic. "The biggest inconvenience was the unavailability of trolleys," she said.

Around 22,000 Airports Authority of India (AAI) employees struck work on Wednesday, protesting the privatisation of the Delhi and Mumbai airports. They say the government move is aimed at dismantling the profit-making public sector entity.

But with the government so far refusing to backtrack, the stalemate continues.

"We will continue the protest although we have no intention to inconvenience passengers. Police have surrounded us but we will not relent," Nandu Master, branch secretary of the Mumbai Airport Employees' Union, said.

AAI's plans of inviting private housekeepers to do the temporary upkeep of the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai also fell flat with no agency coming forward.

Officials claimed 90 per cent of the filth had been removed overnight, but upturned garbage cans and stench from the toilets greeted visitors at the domestic terminal of the Mumbai airport, the country's busiest.

The story was much the same in Delhi.

"India is a filthy country and the airport is as dirty as the city outside," said Willy, a French national married to an Indian.

"This is my second visit and I have found dirt everywhere and it does not make any difference," he added.

In blatant violation of a Delhi High Court order, protesting employees continued to shout slogans and carry out a march inside the airport premises.

While most flight services continued normally, there was some rescheduling.

"Barring a couple of flights which were rescheduled, flight operations remained normal. The delays that occurred were due to air traffic congestion," an official at the Mumbai airport said.

Officials in Kolkata said 31 flights arrived and 17 left from the domestic terminal while five flights arrived and five left at the international terminal.

In Hyderabad, no flights were cancelled. But planes to cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, Chennai and Visakhapatnam were operated with delays ranging from one to two hours.

Passengers from international destinations were put to severe inconvenience. "I had to wait for more than an hour for the baggage," said Husamuddin, who arrived from Dubai.

Bangalore was perhaps an exception with air traffic operations and all the integrated services -- handled by the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) -- functioning smoothly.

"Most of the airlines, including private and international air carriers, maintained their arrival and departure schedules. No inconvenience was caused to passengers as the ground support staff handling baggage, trolleys and other services were on duty," an AAI official in Bangalore said.

First Published: Feb 03, 2006 12:19 IST