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Airport strike: Flights delayed, services hit
Rediff National Desk | February 02, 2006 11:16 IST
Last Updated: February 02, 2006 17:09 IST
Airports across the country are in disarray, two days after the government awarded the contracts for modernising the Mumbai and Delhi airports to two consortiums - GMR-Fraport and GVK-ACSA - at an estimated cost of $ 1.2 billion.
Striking employees of the Airport Authority of India protesting against the privatisation of the airport intensified their agitation on Thursday.
The result: rising and uncleared garbage bins, shortage of trolleys and dirty toilets. Flight services at most of the airports are delayed. Passengers are confused as the arrival and departure zones are not in order.
The government says it is not going to go back on the privatisation process of Delhi and Mumbai airports; employees assert that they will step up the stir.
"We will close down the entry points of Delhi and Mumbai airports from tomorrow if the government does not listen to our demands," Pramod Kumar, secretary of the employees association told rediff.com.
Rediff.com checks out the state of affairs at India's major airports .
Hundreds of employees gathered outside the Delhi airport and shouted slogans against Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel. In view the strike, there was heavy security at the airport, with CISF, CRPF and Delhi Police forces deployed in large numbers. Most flights took off in time; but two Indian Airlines flights from Bangalore and Kolkata were delayed by two hours.
Interestingly, Left party leader Gurdas Gupta had the first hand experience of the strike when his flight landed two and a half hours behind schedule and he had to carry his luggage without any trolley.
"I do not mind getting late. I am prepared to be delayed by even 12 hours. We will continue to support the right of workers," he told rediff.com.
He was surrounded by hundreds of workers holding red flags who are banking on support from the left parties in their fight against the privatisation, that could take away jobs of about 40 per cent of the employees if the government decision is implemented.
Gurdas Gupta said that the left parties would raise the issue of privatisation of the airports on the opening day of the budget session of parliament. " They cannot expect 61 left MPs to support the government and yet do things against our wishes."
If the Manmohan Singh government thinks that they can get away with this, then they are living in fool's paradise," he said.
The arrival and departure of domestic flights was badly affected on the second day of the strike. The harassed passengers had to carry their bags in absence of trolleys which had been locked up by the striking employees.
"I have never worked so hard on the film sets. Now I'm forced to carry my luggage on my own," Farookh Sheikh, filmstar and television anchor said.
Passengers who alighted from various flights and managed to get into the pre-paid taxis were badly hit. "I came from Bangalore at 11 a.m. and I have been sitting in this cab for over two hours, waiting for the striking employees to clear the passage so that I can reach my destination," said a passenger G M Shah.
"Bids have been opened for Delhi and Mumbai airports but the hoodlums have struck work in Kolkata airport as well. God alone can help this country," said Ranjan Ramakrishanan who had flown into Delhi from Kolkata by a private airline.
On the first day of the strike on Wednesday, police had resorted to lathicharge at the Mumbai airport. But the intensity of the strike was felt on Thursday morning. Employees sat quietly at the car parking lot area of Mumbai domestic airport agitating against the privatisation move of the government. By afternoon, a section of employees began a hunger strike to intensify the stir.
Speaking to reporters, Nitin Jadhvav, the All-India Joint Secretary of Airports Authority Employees' Union said: "We will see that the strike continues until our demands are met. We are now trying to mobilise support of our other unions like railways, ports and postal services. We will see that the airports do not get cleaned as the government is not willing to consider our view."
CISF employees were seen cleaning the airport area as no employees turned up to clear the garbage. The job of the CISF employees is to maintain the security of the Mumbai airport.
The police maintained heavy security and cordoned off the entry point at the terminal building to facilitate passenger movement.
Meanwhile, R J Treasurywala, Director, Mumbai Airport said: "All flights are running normal and this holds true for domestic as well as international flights. We are managing all the services quite well."
Flight operations at the NSC Bose International Airport remained almost normal. Most of the flights took off and landed as per schedule. But passenger amenities were badly affected. "You can not go to any of the toilets; they are all filthy," Renu Ghosh, a company executive who was taking a flight to Delhi said.
Airport director V K Monga said flights were operating but many of the facilities for the passengers could not be provided as the employees did not join their duties.
Hearing that flights were operating normally, passengers started reaching the airport since morning, but they had to face inconvenience in the airport as a number of facilities were not available due to the strike.
They had to carry their own luggage as conveyor belts were not working, aero-bridge was not in service, the toilets were stinking, air-conditioning system was not functioning properly in some pockets and fire service was affected too.
Officials said air traffic control was working making flights operation possible. The protesting employees are holding a dharna outside the airport. "If the strike continues, this airport will be badly affected in the coming days," a police office at the airport said.
Practically, all the 1,500 employees of the AAI are on strike in Chennai airport. But there has been no disruption of flights schedules. However, authorities are finding it difficult to handle cargo delivery operations. Officials said the delivery of cargo has been affected.
Airport Director S Subramanian said steps are being taken to normalise cargo delivery operations. "We have deputed more officers at the cargo complex," he said.
He said there has been no disruption of air services and all the seven morning flights, including three to Delhi and two to Mumbai, left as per schedule. No flight has been cancelled, he added.
The striking employees in large numbers, remained near the airport and continued with their demonstration. "The airport has been affected due to the strike. Cargo services have been fully affected as many of the officers were not aware of the procedures for clearing the goods," AAI Employees Union President in Chennai P Mahendran said.
The strike has had only marginal impact on the operations of flights to and from Hyderabad airport. However, the passengers reported delays of about 10 minutes in the operation of flights to four metropolitan cities as well as Bangalore on the second day of the strike.
AAI spokesman at Hyderabad Begumpet airport told rediff.com: "There is no strike as such by our employees. They are showing their feelings (of protest) by organising dharna now and then. Those who are off duty are participating in the protest by moving here and there and those on duty are performing their work without any interruption."
Domestic and international flights are operated from Hyderabad to many Indian and foreign cities. "Our flight operations are normal. On an average, we have 76 flight arrivals and an equal number of departures. These operations are not hit at all due to the strike. Most of our 450 employees are attending their duties by shifts," the AAI spokesman added.
On the second day of the strike, the employees belonging to different associations, staged a dharna for two hours. Raising slogans against "privatisation" of Mumbai and Delhi airports, they burnt the effigy of Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel. They moved around various buildings wearing black badges and waving red flags. CISF personnel and the law and order police kept a strict vigil on the airport premises.
Most flights arrived and departed from Bangalore according to the normal schedules. "But the toilets are stinking and the dustbins are all full," said Raghu Menon, a software engineer, who came to Kochi from Bangalore.
Officials said there was no impact of the strike in Bangalore as air traffic control and major functions at the airport are handled by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd.
The airport has outsourced the maintenance of the airport to a private agency to ensure that the passenger facilities are not affected.
One of the busiest airports in the country, the Bangalore airport handles about 180 flights daily and caters to about 27,000 passengers a day. It also handles cargo flights, which mostly operate in the wee hours. International airlines such as Lufthansa, British Airways, Air France, Singapore Airlines and Sri Lankan, which operate daily flights from Bangalore, have also reported normalcy in their operations.
All the flights arrived and took off according to schedule. At Kochi, there were no protests because as it is a private airport and the staff are not attached to AAI. "The strike has not affected out airport because there are no AAI employees here," V J Kurien, managing director of the Cochin International Airport told rediff.com.
But at the Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode airports in Kerala, trade union leaders demonstrated and staged a sit-in.
With Inputs from George Iype, Syed Firdaus Ashraf, Onkar Singh and PTI.