The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM plea melts airport staff
- Protesters get face-saver to back off

New Delhi, Feb. 3: Garbage accumulated and the stench rose, but there was hope on the third evening of the airport ceasework of a return to normal some time tomorrow.

A meeting with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh offered leaders of the protest by employees of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) a face-saver, which they appeared to have accepted.

“Our strike will continue till 10 am tomorrow and then we will take stock,” said M.K. Ghoshal, convener of the joint forum of AAI employees.

Even if the leaders take a decision to call off the ceasework at 10, the chaos at the airports would continue for some more time. First, the industrial action is taking place across the country and everywhere the employees’ leaders will have to be persuaded to back off.

Second, even after an agreement, it will take time for the employees to return to work and for operations to get back to normal.

“The government has agreed to some of our points.' We will be meeting on this again tomorrow. We will keep in mind the Prime Minister’s appeal (to end the strike),”Ghoshal said.

“We will stand by whatever they decide,” said Gurudas Dasgupta, the CPI leader who has been one of the most active supporters of the action.

The signal that the protest was in disarray came in the morning when Left leaders, supporting the employees, met the Prime Minister.

While the CPM called on the government to consider an alternative modernisation plan, the CPI sought job guarantees for the workers.

Finally, all that was conceded was a meeting between the employees’ leaders and the Prime Minister.

At the 90-minute meeting, the Prime Minister’s appeal to call off the agitation worked as a respectable way out for the leadership.

The government repeated the earlier promise that the employees would not lose their jobs.

It would also consider alternative models for developing other airports, such as Calcutta and Chennai.

“We may look at other models such as the one suggested by the Sreedharan Committee of letting the AAI develop the airports with help from foreign airports using funds raised by a special purpose vehicle,” said an official connected with today’s talks.

This was grabbed by the Left and the agitation as a victory of sorts. “They (employees) have given a big blow to the way government was bulldozing through privatisation,” Dasgupta said.

His colleague in the RSP, Abani Roy, said: “At the very least I feel the workers have ensured by their action that all major airports run by the AAI are not sold off in a similar fashion.”

Away from the scene of action, finance minister P. Chidambaram caused some embarrassment with his statement in Tamil Nadu that CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury had been taken into confidence about the Delhi and Mumbai decision.

“We have consulted Left parties regarding the government’s move and got the consent of the Left leaders, including Sitaram Yechury,” he said.

Yechury was not available for comment, but the statement is likely to create another round of controversy. The CPM leader had been seen during the agitation amid the employees.

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