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Calcutta airport leash on passes

Calcutta, Dec. 18: Calcutta airport authorities today asked the US consulate to “surrender” two diplomatic passes that allowed mission officials to enter areas out of bounds for ordinary visitors, as more retaliatory measures followed last week’s arrest of diplomat Devyani Khobragade.

In Delhi, a civil aviation official said the “instruction” to withdraw the facility came from the ministry of external affairs (MEA).

The office of the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security at Calcutta airport wrote to the consulate asking it to “surrender” the passes. “The consulate has been given time till tomorrow afternoon to submit the passes,” the official said.

Sources in Calcutta said the passes, which were transferable, allowed consular officials entry into check-in areas, though not inside the security hold area, where only passengers are allowed in after being frisked.

Ordinary visitors are not allowed into the check-in area even with visitors’ tickets.

An airport official said the diplomatic passes ensured that consulate officials could receive boarding passes on the behalf of an American dignitary travelling through Calcutta airport, while the flyer waited at the VIP lounge.

Once the consulate surrenders the special passes, officials who need to enter the terminal will have to either buy a visitor’s ticket or request for special passes. “There is no instruction yet to withdraw the VIP lounge facility till now,” the official added.

An official at the branch secretariat of the external affairs ministry said there was also no instruction on collecting the diplomatic identity cards of consulate staff. “We think the matter will be handled directly from Delhi,” the official told The Telegraph.

Ministry sources in Delhi said officials of US consulates all over the country would send their diplomatic identity cards to ambassador Nancy Powell, who would then deposit them with the MEA.

Helen LaFave, US consul-general in Calcutta, chose cause over conflict as she attended the first Calcutta staging of the Indian production of Eve Ensler’s award-winning play The Vagina Monologues this evening. “This play speaks to a universal audience of women and men concerned about gender-based violence, human rights and human freedom and creativity,” Helen said after the play, presented in association with t2.