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Blind eye to vital gadgets

The flights were taking off and landing on Thursday, but resources at Calcutta airport were overstretched, almost to the point of snapping.

With nearly 3,000 employees joining the ceasework ' a protest against the Centre's decision to award the contract for modernising Mumbai and Delhi airports to private parties ' only a handful was left to shoulder the burden of the entire staff to ensure smooth flight operations.

'We are managing the situation somehow,' K. Ramalingam, Airports Authority of India (AAI) chairman, said over telephone from Delhi.

Officials said that since 10 am on Wednesday, when the agitation started, there has been no inspection of vital communication and navigation surveillance installations.

The radar, Instrument Landing System (ILS) on the runway and the Doppler Very High Frequency Omni Range and Distance Measuring Equipment (the last two are used to guide aircraft to the airport) have not been tended to for the past two days.

The gadgets are operated by air traffic control (ATC) personnel, but are maintained by the communication-technical wing of the airport. The officials of the wing are on a relay hunger strike in support of the agitation.

'Even if they wished to, they could not have discharged their duties as the drivers of the inspection vehicles are taking part in the ceasework,' an official pointed out.

Sources said several of the pylon lights, which illuminate the apron area, went out late in the evening. 'The lights cannot be repaired as the technical staff are not here,' the official added.

A measure of the authorities' desperation was the decision to ask ATC personnel ' whose job is to guide planes to, from and over the airport ' to look after the planes' parking as well.

Sources said that since Wednesday afternoon, when flight operations resumed after a suspension of more than five hours, ATC officials were guiding aircraft from the runway to the parking bay. The task is of the apron control staff.

With the agitation intensifying, the district police, CISF and the airport authorities met on Thursday morning to chalk out a coordination strategy for running the airport operations, said Vageesh Mishra, inspector-general of police (South Bengal).

The AAI Employees' Joint Federation organised a huge procession on the premises.

Parliamentarian Amitava Nandi (CPM) and other senior leaders addressed protest rallies. 'We will continue the agitation till the government changes its decision,' Nandi asserted.

The only solace was that flight services were normal, except for a few delays.

Sources said the authorities were planning to deploy staff of two neighbouring municipalities to clean the premises. The employees, on their part, are gearing up to foil the move.

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