Monday, October 27, 2008

Airport-closure clause was added later: panel

Airport-closure clause was added later: panel

New Delhi/Bangalore:
The issue of reopening the HAL airport is back. A parliamentary committee looking into the issue has asked the civil aviation ministry to respond to charges of “irregularities” in the concession agreement it has signed with the airport developer. Thus, a fresh legal scrutiny has begun.
The panel said the airport-closure clause was brought into the agreement “at a later stage ... after a demand was by Bengaluru International Airport Ltd (BIAL)”. Civil aviation minister Praful Patel has shot down suggestions of keeping the HAL Airport open.
Quoting records of its hearing with the ministry, Airports Authority of India, its employees and the BIAL, the standing committee on transport, tourism and culture headed by CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said the concession agreement initially prepared and approved by the Union Cabinet “did not provide for the closure of HAL airport”.
However, the July 2004 agreement signed with BIAL had a clause making it obligatory on the government to notify that the old airport would not be available for commercial civil aviation operations from the date the new greenfield airport became operational, it said.
Though the panel in March recommended that the civil aviation ministry “rethink” closing down HAL and Begumpet airports in Hyderabad, the Centre was against it. Rework deal with BIAL: Yechury
New Delhi/Bangalore: Should the HAL Airport be kept open? The debate has resurfaced with a parliamentary panel suggesting the closure clause was introduced at BIAL’s behest.
Former civil aviation secretary Ashok Chawla had maintained it was not possible for the government to retain HAL and Hyderabad’s Begumpet airports as agreements have been signed with promoters of international airports — Bengaluru International Airport Ltd and GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd — granting them exclusive rights over flight operations.
Later, civil aviation minister Praful Patel made it clear HAL airport will be closed once the BIA starts functioning.
AAI Employees Union is reported to have pointed out that an airport, according to the Aircraft Act, could be closed down only if security of the country and safety of aircraft were endangered. “In the case of HAL airport, both these reasons are not present,” said the report quoting the union.
The parliamentary standing committee also pointed out that the Aircraft Act’s section relating to closure of an airport due to danger to aircraft or the country was “totally irrelevant” in case of the old Bangalore airport. It asked the government to revisit the Concession Agreement to ensure all the illegalities, etc, are removed.
This is what Sitaram Yechury, who led the parliamentary panel, had said while asking the Centre to rethink on closing HAL airport: “Given that in both Hyderabad and Bangalore, capacity has saturated there is no reason for the Centre to to close existing airports. The government should renegotiate the deal with promoters of new airports. Even if court verdict is not in government’s favour it should not close it and renegotiate.”



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