Sunday, March 09, 2008



Public interest is paramount
Rajeev Chandrasekhar
The wealthy and the powerful, including bureaucrats and politicians of Bangalore, will hardly be inconvenienced with the closure of HAL Airport as they would have access to helicopters and other expensive tools to make their life simpler. But the decision is going to be extremely harsh on the majority of citizens as it is going to increase their hardship related to travel both in terms of time and cost.
Commercial contracts and investments made in good faith should not be put at risk. At the same time, it’s government’s obligation and responsibility to ensure that public interest is best served.
If a commercial contract comes in the way of public interest being served, it’s important for us to examine the background of the contract to see how it can be unwound with no prejudice to investors.
Infrastructure is in too short supply in our country and therefore shutting down existing HAL airport can cost us dearer.
Infrastructure projects like Metro Rail or airports are no longer the high-risk, low-return investments that they were in the past.
It’s important to examine expected revenues and economics involved in BIAL project in an open and transparent manner. It must be government’s endeavour to ensure that their private partners get reasonable returns, without being prejudiced.
BIAL and its shareholders must adopt a reasonable and open mind towards resolving this issue. As long as they get reasonable returns on their investments they should not and cannot push to maintain a monopoly to ensure windfall profits.
Government’s duty is to safeguard the interest of the public, and not being silent spectator to private majority shareholders. After all any infrastructure including airports is built for the general public. Public interest must be the single-most important criterion to be considered whilst any decision is taken.
Agree on an interim period of 2 years to complete all connectivity requirements for BIAL. During this period, HAL Airport continues to op erate domestic flights while BIAL starts with inter national flights. Inter terminal transfers can be es tablished. Govt citizens committee to be constituted to eval uate actual financials and viability of BIAL Airport Decision on HAL Airport taken at the end of in terim period or before based on committee report and recommendations.
(The writer is an MP and president of FICCI) A promise is a promise
Dinesh Kumar
It does rattle me to see industry leaders, politicians and socialites run a campaign that HAL airport and BIAL should operate concurrently. “You know it would take us two hours to reach the new airport when the journey to Chennai takes just half an hour. Is it fair?” they moan and groan. I have a few questions to ask of them. Where were you, ladies and gentlemen, when I was slogging through the traffic to the HAL airport to catch a flight? Where were you when BIAL and the government were inking the agreement, which said that the whole business of aviation would move to the new airport because only then it would make business sense for the company? Where were you when government took nearly 15 years to decide the location of the airport? How would you stand up and explain to BIAL that we are reneging on our contract made by our government? And this one is for the industry leaders. How would you feel if you had made a business plan in, say, a SEZ location on the promise of certain tax benefits for 10 years and then those concessions were withdrawn? BIAL made a promise and delivered. Did the new airport become a reality overnight? Yet the government woke up in February, just a month before the inauguration to build its first underpass. If the HAL airport continues to function, work on the new underpasses and other attempts at building roads and railways will slow down. Governments respond only to crises. If that is the reality, let us not help slow down the process. We need to crawl for some months to keep the attention of the government focused on infrastructure. For every benefit, there is a cost. Let us collectively pay that cost.
We live in a country in which political leaders say that we need to cut down production of cars because our roads cannot take them. We will strengthen that view if we provide an escape route. If we must work on a compromise, our proposal should be a win-win one. The least we should be saying is that our government should make good the loss of revenue to BIAL for allowing the two airports to function simultaneously. It was the business community whose slogan 5 years back was: We want a new airport, we want. I’m giving no prizes for guessing where the title of this article came from. This is what Ratan Tata said when asked whether he would be able to maintain the Rs 1-lakh promise that he made for the Nano. He said: “A promise is a promise.”
(The writer is an author and columnist)


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