Take strong action to check rising airfares, opposition urges government in Lok Sabha

New Delhi: Seeking strong action by the government to rein in rising air ticket prices, Opposition in Lok Sabha on Monday charged the airlines with "looting" passengers as airfares remained high despite decline in jet fuel costs.

Initiating the discussion on Demands for Grants for the Ministries of Civil Aviation and Tourism, Congress leader K C Venugopal said airlines have not passed on the benefits of fall in fuel prices to passengers and added that private carriers were "looting" them.

He said the price of ATF (Aviation Turbine Fuel) has come down resulting in huge benefits to airlines but still airfares
have been going up and claimed that Air India has benefitted by over Rs 1,000 crore from fall in ATF prices.

Maintaining that airlines have not passed on the benefits to passengers, the Congress leader said, private carriers are "looting".

He said that air ticket prices were high in international air routes too, giving the example of Air India Express, the low cost carrier which operates a significant number of flights mainly connecting the Gulf and Kerala.

"What action is being taken for justice to the people," Venugopal asked and urged the government to take "strong action" to deal with exorbitant airfares.

"There is no justification for high air ticket prices... There is a need for an intervention from the (Civil Aviation) Ministry... There is need for strong action," he noted.

TMC leader Saugata Roy also urged the government to rein in the rising airfares.

"I feel that the government should have a role in having some regulations" when air ticket prices go up and cited that during the recent Jat agitation, airfares rose for flights to and from Chandigarh.

During holidays and festivals too, air fares goes through the roof, he noted.

In the recent times, concerns have been expressed in various quarters about rising airfares despite fall in fuel prices, which account for over 40 per cent of a carrier's total operating costs.

Venugopal said the Ministry has taken a stance not to intervene citing pricing regulations, but airfares have been rocketing.

As he wondered whether such a stance was "a right thing", Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, in a lighter vein, was heard saying "wrong".

Criticising the government for reducing budgetary allocation to Air India, Venugopal said it would put the carrier in trouble and asked the government to earmark the maximum possible amount.

Representational image. PTI

Representational image. PTI

Venugopal asked the Centre to expedite Kerala government's proposal to launch the carrier Air Kerala that would mainly cater to people from the state living in Gulf countries.

The state government wants to invest in the airline and was awaiting consensus from the Centre. A cabinet note in this regard was even circulated during the previous UPA rule but could not go forward as elections were announced by that time, Venugopal, who hails from Kerala, said.

He also cited various incidents like those involving cabin crew and one pilot and said such things would not help Air India and action needs to be taken, Venugopal said even as he appreciated the efforts made by the carrier's current CMD.

He also requested the government to shift the headquarters of Air India Express to Kochi in Kerala.

One Tourism Ministry, Venugopal expressed disappointment saying many ongoing projects were stopped by the government while new ones are not taking off.

He noted that with the government cutting down funding for the initiative PIDDC (Project/Infrastructure Development for Destination and Circuits), many initiatives have been hit.

PIDDC was started during the UPA regime. "Government is a continuation... why this discrimination," he wondered.

Regarding Kerala, Venugopal said certain announcements made have not been fulfilled. "How can you punish a state that has huge tourism potential?," he noted.

BJP's Dushyant Singh sought to put the onus on the previous UPA governments for the financial problems faced by Air India.

Countering criticism that allocation to the national carrier has been reduced, Singh said Air India placed orders for new aircraft during the previous regime despite fall in market share.

The Empowered Group of Ministers, under then Union Minister P Chidambaram, had approved placing orders for new aircraft, he said.

Singh took a dig at the previous government for the merger of Indian Airlines and Air India. Now, the situation is improving and Air India has started "making monthly operational profits", he claimed.

The government is working on various plans for the aviation sector, including for boosting regional connectivity.

With regard to tourism sector, Singh claimed that change of government at the Centre has helped.

He asked the government to further promote the country's tourism sector including in overseas markets. Initiatives such as Indian food festivals should be looked at apart from developing destinations like "Ayodhya," he added.

While speaking about Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) facility at Nagpur, Singh mentioned, "my leader comes from Nagpur", eliciting reactions from some members present.

TMC leader Saugata Roy sought to know which leader Singh was talking about, while BJP member Anurag Thakur wondered whether something happens to the Opposition when the word Nagpur is mentioned.

Roy said the government was struggling to formulate the new aviation policy and demanded expediting the process. He said the government should not privatise the airports as public owned companies can run and make profits.

"We need not give airports to fly-by-night operators... they should not get airports for free," he said adding although Air India has registered operational profit, there are some problem in their Dreamliner fleet.

"The minister should do something...no effort should be made to privatise Kolkata airport," Roy said.

The TMC leader emphasised that India needs more domestic carriers and the government should encourage more players for domestic carriers.

Speaking on the tourism sector, he said though states like Kerala have done a lot to promote the sector but states like Uttar Pradesh need to do a lot.

Citing the example of Agra, he said there was a need for "tourist police" to protect foreign and domestic tourists from touts and hawkers who sell spurious products. He also sought more focus on developing strong infrastructure for the sector.

Roy also claimed that no development has taken place in Varanasi, which is the constituency of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Updated Date: May 02, 2016 20:46 PM

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