Calcutta, Feb. 1: If Calcutta played to form by claiming first spot in flight disruptions, there was one unusual gesture by the Left Front government to restore normality.
Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee said he had asked state fire service personnel to be stationed at the airport so that flights could operate.
Flights had stopped after 1 pm as airport employees went off work and fire service became unavailable, as a result of which planes could not take off or land.
At other airports air force personnel had taken charge of the fire service with support from the city fire brigade. In Calcutta, the air force came into the picture in the evening, when flights resumed after some five hours.
While leaving Writers’ Buildings, Bhattacharjee said: “They (state fire brigade) didn’t want to (work at the airport), but I insisted that they had to do it. I have spoken to Union (civil aviation) minister Praful Patel. Things are running normally now.”
Flights were by no means normal, with average delays being three to four hours, but were operating again.
The Left parties and unions affiliated to them are supporting the protesting airport employees, which is why the decision by Bhattacharjee, the chief minister of a CPM-ruled state, to order the fire brigade to do duty at the airport is a little unusual.
His party MPs, Amitabha Nandi, Md Salim and Sudhangshu Sil, in fact, addressed the protesting employees at the airport.
At 10 am, some 3,000 airport employees and officers left their posts and began to demonstrate. They stopped air traffic controllers from entering the airport. As a result, the ATCs manning the morning shift continued to work late into the night.
From around 4, the flights started again.
The chief minister’s move must also be viewed in the context of what could happen without fire service at the airport. A private airline’s aircraft had to land even without the fire service because it had run out of fuel.
Passengers scheduled to travel tomorrow should prepare for the worst as the protests will continue. The Federation of Indian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s national executive, slated for Thursday with 25 outstation participants, could be affected by the disruptions.
Several bureaucrats and businessmen, among them Keiji Oshima, president and COO of Sanyo BPL, heading to the city were either delayed or diverted.