Thursday, October 6, 2022

Why is govt handing profitable airports to private sector: AAI employees union leader

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New Delhi: Hundreds of Airports Authority of India (AAI) employees all over the country, under the banner of Airports Authority Employees Union (AAEU), are observing a hunger strike to protest against the government’s plan to privatise six profitable airports — Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Lucknow, Guwahati, Thiruvananthapuram and Mangaluru. On Day 1 of the three-day-long hunger strike declared by AAEU, a top union representative made a pitch against privatisation by asking why the government should hand everything over to the private sector on a platter when airports are doing well.

Why is AAEU opposing privatisation?

Balraj Singh Ahlawat, General Secretary of the Union, said that one of the prime reasons for opposing the privatisation of these airports is the sour experience gained from the previous instances when big airports like Delhi and Mumbai were privatised. “Before the Delhi and Mumbai airports were privatised in 2006, 65 percent of AAI’s revenue came from these two. Post privatisation, the revenue dropped to around 30 percent. The AAI employees work hard to make these airports profitable and then when they are doing well, the government comes along that hands them over to the private sector. How do you explain that?” Ahlawat asked. He added that if the government wants to privatise airports, they should begin by putting smaller airports, which are not doing well, on the block first.

‘6,000 employees were relocated when privatisation happened last time’

According to BS Bisht, an AAEU representative, the privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports had meant abrupt transfers and relocations for AAI employees to remote airports in the country. “About 6,000 people were transferred when privatisation happened during the erstwhile UPA regime. The plan to privatise more airports was shelved at the time. And now, the government has again decided to take it up,” said Bisht.

‘Strike will not disrupt operations’

The strike began with a march by AAI employees from Safdarjung Airport to Rajiv Gandhi Bhavan. Ahlawat said that even as all-India employees of the state-owned enterprise observe a hunger-strike, operations will not be impacted by it.

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