The United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government’s pet themes of public private partnerships (PPPs) and transparency are tumbling one after another. Be it Delhi Metro, be it toll roads, be it airports, be it power distribution companies-all PPP projects are turning to massive safety hazards and platforms for fleecing the public. Lack of transparency continues to be the common denominator of all PPP projects.
On August 21, a large chunk of the roof of newly constructed terminal named 1D of privatised New Delhi international airport crashed under a short spell of windy rains, flooding the terminal building, endangering safety of passengers and different employees, damaging shops, delaying 20 flights, and diverting 10 flights approaching Delhi. The world-class terminal became a nightmare for the passengers with electricity failure. In April and May, portions of the false roof had collapsed after the rains.
According to a story in The Indian Express, the new terminal has failed the monsoon test, having reported heavy leaks due to rains on June 30, July 22 and July 28.
And all this has happened in spite of ‘extensive pre-monsoon checks’ carried out by Delhi International Airport (Private) Limited (DIAL) to pre-empt any disruption in operations both on the airside and in the passenger terminals.
DIAL, the developer and operator of the capital’s Indira Gandhi International Airport, had issued a release on July 14, stating: “The monsoon strategy has been drawn in consultations with various stakeholders at the airport including DGCA, ATC, CISF, BCAS, Met Department and Airlines.”
DIAL and its leading Indian private stake-holder GMR Group never get tired of bombarding image-building press releases on their websites as well as on the stock market.
But when it came to explaining roof crashes and flooding of world-class terminal, DIAL goes into shell. It did not issue any release, showing its indifference towards passenger safety.
Visit the websites of DIAL, GMR and the Bombay Stock Exchange, you would see several press releases trumpeting the show-biz initiative such as “DIAL and Outlook Group to launch IGI Airport Magazine Outlook Lounge”.
Even the government did not issue any release on the roof crash and flooding and whether the new terminal had been certified by Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and other regulatory authorities concerned.
A day after the disaster, the Press Information Bureau merely issued a release, stating that the Ministry of Civil Aviation had taken a “serious note” of the incident and had ordered an independent inquiry. It would be conducted by DGCA.
As put by the release, “The Ministry has asked the DGCA to fix accountability and suggest appropriate action under its licensing and regulatory powers. The DGCA shall also suggest remedial action to prevent any such occurrence in the future.”
According to an aviation industry source, it is DGCA’s job to oversee working of all segments of aviation sector and prevent such avoidable accidents.
DGCA’s regulation on “aerodrome design and operations”, dated July 31, 2006, has thus this to say on safety management: “The operator of licenced aerodrome shall implement a safety management system acceptable to DGCA that, as a minimum; (a) identifies safety hazards, (b) ensures that the remedial actions necessary to maintain an acceptable level of safety are implemented, (c) provides for continuous monitoring and regular assessment of the safety level achieved, and d) aims to make continuous improvement to the overall level of safety.”
DGCA also prepares an elaborate annual surveillance programme each year. DGCA’s Aerodrome Standards Directorate has an elaborate surveillance inspection checklist.
The crux of the matter is that whether it is the failure of DIAL or whether it is the failure of both DIAL and DGCA. If it is the failure of both, how can DGCA hold an independent inquiry into the incident?
Sources say that setting-up of an inquiry committee is a time-tested technique of the government to diffuse the public ire in such situations and to shield influential private companies.
DIAL is a joint venture between GMR Group, Airports Authority of India (AAI), Germany’s Fraport AG, Malaysian Airport and India Development Fund. It was incorporated in April 2006 after the GMR-led consortium bagged the mandate to modernise, expand and operate the IGI Airport, which was earlier owned and operated by public AAI.
DIAL has the right to control and operate the airport for 30 years and this concession is renewable for another 30 years under the Operation, Management and Development Agreement between AAI and DIAL signed on April 4, 2006.
The UPA government has let DIAL have its monopoly within 150-kilometre radius of the airport under another agreement named the State Support Agreement (SSA), which it signed with DIAL on April 26, 2006.
The agreement says: “The right of first refusal (ROFR) with regard to a second airport within a 150 km radius of the airport will be given to the JVC (DIAL) by following a competitive bidding process, in which the JVC can also participate if it wishes to exercise its ROFR as set forth below. In the event, the JVC is not the successful bidder but its bid is within the range of 10 per cent of the most competitive bid received, the JVC will have the ROFR by matching the first-ranked bid….”
The SSA has also provided the framework for ensuring considerable leeway to DIAL in charging tariff from different users of airport services. This is evident from the “principles of tariff fixation” incorporated in the agreement.
Under this, Airport Economic Regulation Authority (AERA) would fix regulated charges by observing “incentives-based” principle and nine other specified principles.
SSA says: “The JVC (DIAL) will be provided with appropriate incentives to operate in an efficient manner, optimizing operating cost, maximizing revenue and undertaking investment in an efficient, effective and timely manner and to this end utilize a price cap methodology as per this agreement.”
Even as AERA was still being put in place and is yet to start its operations, the UPA allowed DIAL to levy development fee of Rs 200 for a domestic for an passenger and Rs 1300 for an international passenger departing New Delhi airport for 36 months beginning March 1, 2009, to raise funds for financing development of the airport.
So even after paying whopping charges on this and several other counts, passengers have to risk their life while availing of airport facilities!
International Air Transport Association (IATA) has already dubbed such airport development fees “unfair”, because the passenger have to pay money for facilities that would come up only after a few years.
Private Indian airlines have been grumbling against exorbitant levies being collected by DIAL and three other private airports at Mumbai, Bengaluru and Hyderabad. These levies was one of the causes that forced them to issue unprecedented airline strikes last month.
And now credit rating major ICRA Limited has issued a study highlighting “regulatory uncertainty” relating to aviation infrastructure.
In a study released on August 24, ICRA said: “Aeronautical charges (levied on aircraft and passenger movement) are a major source of revenues for any airport. While regulation of aeronautical charges is necessary considering the monopolistic nature of airports, the regulatory framework must also meet the basic objectives of autonomy, transparency and predictability. At present, even as the four major airports at Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, and Mumbai are being run by private operators, an independent regulatory authority for the aviation sector, though constituted, is yet to formulate detailed tariff guidelines.”