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STUCK IN A STRIKE

PROTESTING EMPLOYEES of the Airports Authority of India on Wednesday blocked airport approach roads in Delhi, severed power supply in Mumbai and prevented flights from taking off and landing in Kolkata. In Guwahati and Bhubaneswar, unions went on a "go slow". Till late on Wednesday night, the unions said the strike was indefinite. In Delhi, even as the cabinet approved the entire bidding process for the modernisation of the Delhi and Mumbai airports, the Left softened its stance considerably.

india Updated: Feb 02, 2006 01:41 IST

PROTESTING EMPLOYEES of the Airports Authority of India on Wednesday blocked airport approach roads in Delhi, severed power supply in Mumbai and prevented flights from taking off and landing in Kolkata.

In Guwahati and Bhubaneswar, unions went on a "go slow". Till late on Wednesday night, the unions said the strike was indefinite.

In Delhi, even as the cabinet approved the entire bidding process for the modernisation of the Delhi and Mumbai airports, the Left softened its stance considerably. Neither did the CPM's statements of support for the AAI unions overtly criticise Manmohan Singh's government (as Sitaram Yechury did on Tuesday) nor did the politburo's statement contain any references to withdrawing support to the government.

Senior officials of both the national carriers and several private airlines met civil aviation secretary Ajay Prasad to discuss how best to carry on operations.

Airlines are believed to have assured the government of their full support.

In Mumbai, the police resorted to a lathi-charge to disperse a 3,000-strong mob of AAI employees blocking the main entrance to the airport. Police sources said the action, which resulted in minor injuries to about 20 people, was taken after some women protesters tried to attack the policemen on duty. The unions said the police had lathi-charged protesters who were demonstrating peacefully.

Later, in the afternoon, there was a 10-minute power breakdown at the Mumbai airport.

In Delhi, protesters blocked the approach road leading to the domestic airport for nearly three hours, causing a massive traffic jam. Hapless passengers were forced to lug their baggage and foot it. After trudging over a kilometre to the airport, passengers discovered that trolleys had gone missing.

Since no aerobridge was functional, passengers clutching hand baggage had to use stepladders to climb in and out of planes by the evening, exposing the chinks in the government's contingency plans. Sources said Thursday could be worse as the unions proposed to switch off the runway lights too.

At Kolkata's Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose Airport, which was declared non operational on Wednesday afternoon, the unions ensured no flights could take off or land after 1 p.m. -- by preventing air force fire-service employees from reporting for duty.

Later, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel called up West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadev Bhattacharya, asking for the state administration's support to restore normalcy. The CM's interventions are believed to have persuaded the unions to allow flights to resume by evening.

While AAI unions said they were fully geared to remain on strike indefinitely till the government agreed to go back on the airports modernisation process, union sources said they were looking at a strike which would last at least four more days.

Also on Wednesday, the AAI filed caveats in the Bombay and Delhi high courts and the Supreme Court, asking to be heard on any petition challenging the airport modernisation bids. GMR-Fraport filed a similar caveat in the Supreme Court.

First Published: Feb 02, 2006 01:41 IST