A public sector company’s attempt to cut costs where it should not have appears to be one of the primary reasons why Calcutta’s “new” airport has turned filthy in its opening week, triggering a scramble to clean the mess.
The contract for the cleaning job at Calcutta airport’s new integrated terminal went to the lowest bidder and the firm that bagged it employed only around 120 people for the 180,000square metre facility.
That does not mean Calcutta airport has 126 people cleaning it at a time but, split into three shifts, only 42 for the length and breadth of the terminal — including 45 washrooms.
The result: dirty toilets, overflowing bins, stained glass walls and dusty seats, shocked passengers and a shamed city within five days of opening.
Growing passenger grumbles and a series of articles in Metro forced the airport authorities to call the representatives of the private agency to the city on Thursday. Impressions, one of the four agencies that maintain Delhi’s T3, had won the bid for Calcutta.
“We are expecting things to improve soon. The private agency has been asked to deploy more men and equipment. They have been asked to deploy one person for each male and female washroom,” a senior Calcutta airport official said after the meeting.
At present, there’s one such person manning two, and sometimes three, loos separated by several metres.
Airport sources said in the last couple of days, Impressions had added “five to six” cleaners but that failed to make an impression.
“Manpower has been the main issue. We have asked the agency to deploy 230 people (not 126). There should be one cleaner in each toilet,” said the official.
Delhi employs around 1,000 cleaners, which translates into 300-plus per shift for 501,676 square metres. There are four agencies, each in charge of cleaning a particular section: for washrooms, garbage bins, the departure section, and arrival area. And there’s a cleaner in every loo at all times.
Calcutta has turned into a city that tries to get a job done cheap, ignorant of the consequent pitfalls and even perils.
When a portion of the VIP Road flyover came crashing down on March 3, one of the suspected causes was a shoddy job done by contractor firm Mackintosh Burn.
Mackintosh Burn was picked over several other higher bidders of national repute, simply because it had promised to build the flyover at a lower price.
It is the same syndrome that has soiled and sullied the new airport.
Airport officials said the Delhi-based Impressions, which has an annual turnover of Rs 200 crore, was among 11 private bidders. It quoted Rs 19 lakh per month to bag the contract and deployed 126 personnel and eight battery-operated scrubbers.
Delhi airport, sources said, spends several crores on cleaning. A private company runs the airport in the capital and it had no obligation to pick the cheapest contractors. “Quality of work was the only criterion for a contractor to make it,” said sources.
Impressions maintains the departure area of T3 and deploys 400 cleaning staff. It has 20 battery-operated scrubbers at Delhi airport while at Calcutta’s new terminal, it has eight — six for mopping floors inside and two outside.
The agency has now been asked to add at least four scrubbers inside the terminal and two outside.
“The bidding processes are also completely different,” said a civil aviation ministry official from Delhi.
In Calcutta, the value for the one-year contract tender was Rs 20 lakh. “Manpower was calculated based on the value of the tender document. The cost factor has to be kept in mind,” said an airport official.
The Airports Authority of India, an airline official said, failed to realise that keeping a facility with a daily off-season footfall of around 12,000 was a round-the-clock job that required an army of personnel.
But can Impressions afford to scale up operations at the Calcutta airport given the price it quoted?
A source in the firm promised change. “We are conscious about our image and making profits is less of a priority in Calcutta,” he said.
“In the contract, there is a provision for five per cent penalty in a month if the work is not up to the standard,” reminded an airport official.
The old Calcutta airport terminals, which now have become defunct, had around 170 “safaiwallas” or cleaners. The group D staff of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) were in charge of cleaning the 60,000square metre of the domestic and international terminal buildings.
But still the toilets were filthy and bins used to spill over with no cleaner in sight. “There was practically no cleaning as they were government employees and protected by the unions. In the new terminal the cleaning is in the hands of a private agency,” an official pointed out.
When the new terminal became fully operational on March 15, there was hope of a real paribartan. But what followed was a shocker. As fashion designer Kiran Uttam Ghosh had put it in Metro: The loos were “F.I.L.T.H.Y.”.
Now, there is hope of that changing to: C.L.E.A.N.