| Agitating workers in Delhi airport and police engage in a scuffle on Saturday. (PTI)
New Delhi, Feb. 4: Airport workers called off their four-day-old ceasework this evening after the government scribbled on a piece of paper promises about job security and a possible role for the state-run Airports Authority of India in the modernisation efforts.
By late evening, the workers had answered their leaders’ call to get back to work at once and were busy cleaning up the piles of garbage and overflowing sewers that had been a feature of air travel in the country since Wednesday.
There were no disruptions today with flights operating on schedule. But a scuffle around noon between the police and the strikers ' who have been agitating against the privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports ' partly soured the atmosphere in the capital.
Signs of the strike’s imminent end had come as early as yesterday when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met union leaders. Government officials later said the employees have been promised job security and a look at alternative development models for airports.
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel made the assurance formal today.
At a meeting with airports union chief M.K. Ghoshal, CPI leader Gurudas Dasgupta and Citu boss M.K. Pandhe, he handed over a signed letter that pledges a committee to consider proposals for getting airports modernised by the AAI.
Although the letter didn’t spell it out, the commitment can be assumed to apply only to airports other than the two that prompted the strike.
The new committee ' made up of government, AAI and union representatives ' will also go into the matter of job security.
The letter also assured the workers against “victimisation of any kind for participation in the agitation”, paving the way for Ghoshal to shortly announce: “I, as convener of the strike, am calling it off.”
Earlier in the day, the government had called in outside agencies in some airports to start cleaning up the accumulated filth. In Delhi, the police kept the strikers beyond the court-stipulated 500-metre limit around the airport.
The scuffle broke out when the workers were stopped from holding a meeting-cum-demonstration. The workers alleged the police first gave permission only to later ask them to disperse, saying the gathering was too large. The police said they were merely following court orders.
Although the government has won the battle of nerves with the unions and the Left, it still has another fight on hand: the legal challenge to the bidding process mounted by the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Airport Developers.
The Anil group has moved Delhi High Court, complaining of last-minute changes to the bid evaluation process.