Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Minister hits back, blames Delhi airport delay on Plan Panel

NEW DELHI, MAY 13: A day after the Planning Commission rapped the Delhi International Airport Limited (DIAL) for the slow progress in upgradation of the capital’s airport, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on Tuesday hit back at the Plan Panel.

In a strongly-worded letter, Patel has written to Deputy Chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia how it is the Commission’s “constant objections” that had earlier delayed the awarding process for joint ventures of both Delhi and Mumbai airports and how it is now dragging its feet on the Kolkata and Chennai airport modernisation process.

The Commission had come down heavily on the GMR-run DIAL at a review meeting on Monday for its slow progress, terming it a complete failure. The Commission had said the situation at the airport was miserable, as instead of decreasing congestion, DIAL had only increased congestion. DIAL was further told that this was leading to a perception that bringing in a private partner for the upgradation was no help at all and this was hitting the country’s global image.

Patel has reacted rather quickly to the Planning Commission’s sudden interest in DIAL. Pointing out how he has learnt through newspaper reports about Ahluwalia’s “anguish over the slow pace of progress in the modernisation and development work” at the Delhi airport, the minister said he hoped it would bring about “necessary changes and improvement in a time-bound manner”.
The minister, however, has not minced words in pointing out how it is the Planning Commission officials who have been delaying various projects. Sources in the Planning Commission say the letter refers to how the commission’s officials had almost “completely derailed” the process of awarding joint ventures for Mumbai and Delhi airports and only the Deputy Commissioner’s intervention had helped save the deal. The minister, it is learnt, has also noted that projects should be decided keeping in mind the needs for the next 10-20 years and “not to repeat the past mistakes” like those made in construction of the current IGI airport international terminal — “a plan then approved by the Planning Commission and the Ministry”.

Patel has written that he takes “this opportunity” to bring to Ahluwalia’s notice how the modernisation of Kolkata and Chennai airports is also being delayed due to “constant objections being raised by the Planning Commission about the scale and size of these airports”. These endless objections are holding up the project despite the fact that the Committee on Infrastructure headed by the Prime Minister has “categorically approved the projects”.
The minister winds off his letter rather sarcastically, saying he hoped the Deputy Chairman’s visits across Delhi and the country would draw his attention to “various problems of roads, electricity, water, sewerage system, public transport” and that he would address these problems in a “time-bound manner”.

Patel’s letter comes soon after Left leader Sitaram Yechury wrote to the PM on the issue of delay in the modernisation of Kolkata and Chennai airports and complained that “backdoor privatisation” of the 35 non-metro airports was being planned.


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