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Strike threat over airport bidding

New Delhi, Jan. 30: Airport staff threatened to bring services to a halt as the government prepared to open financial bids for privatisation of Mumbai and Delhi airports.

Civil aviation minister Praful Patel appeared to be sticking to his stand of meeting tomorrow’s deadline for opening the bids.

Employees of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) issued the warning after emerging unsatisfied from a 90-minute meeting with Patel.

M.K. Ghoshal, convener of the employees’ forum, said: “We agreed to disagree.”

“We have so far not taken any steps to inconvenience the air traveller. But if the government went ahead with privatisation, we could even consider closure of all airports. The responsibility will lie with the government.”

Officers are backing employees in the protest. Y.P. Gautam, general secretary of the officers association, said: “We are keeping our plan of action a secret.”

The forum leaders said the government had “not given us any satisfactory reply” to what happened to the alternative plan for modernising the airports. The forum had submitted it to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh last year.

The forum, led by Ghoshal and Dipankar Mukherjee, a CPM MP, asked Patel whether the alternative plan had been considered. “Even if we accept our plan has been rejected, we want to understand who rejected it, at which forum and what were the grounds for declaring the plan untenable,” Mukherjee said.

He said the plan review committee headed by V.D.V. Prasada Rao, AAI member (finance), had accepted it as feasible. The plan envisaged AAI raising Rs 9,500 crore from the market to modernise Delhi, Mumbai and 35 other airports.

Abani Roy, an MP belonging to the RSP, has written to the Prime Minister, demanding immediate scrapping of the bidding process.

“The number of successive committees involved at various stages and the abrupt modification of bidding norms so conveniently made at crucial junctures stand as serious reasons for an immediate halt to the airport privatisation programme,” Roy said.

Ghoshal said Patel had told the forum leadership that he would take up “our sentiments with the government leadership. He may get back to us after a meeting of the group of ministers”.

The group, headed by defence minister Pranab Mukherjee, was set up to vet the bids.

Patel had said after the group’s meeting on January 29 that the final decision had been taken on the Rs 5,400-crore modernisation project. But he did not disclose the decision.

After the financial bids are opened tomorrow, the group will be informed about it.

Three consortia are said to be in running for each city. Bids by Reliance-ASA Mexico, GMR-Fraport and DS-Munich may be taken up for Delhi. Reliance, GMR and GVK-Airports South Africa are likely to be considered for Mumbai.

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