New Delhi: In a controversial decision, government has asked private airlines to give special privileges like lounge access and faster security clearance to MPs, sparking a furore with some politicians denouncing it for not being in sync with the times.
According to a reply to a Parliament question in August last year, a 2007 protocol is "to be followed by all concerned, including private airports and airlines".
It includes reserved lounge facilities, complimentary tea, coffee or water, free access to the terminal building and designation of one officer of airport as Protocol Officer to extend all facilities and courtesies to MPs, as per the reply given then by Minister of State for Civil Aviation K C Venugopal.
Following numerous complaints by MPs that private airlines was not adhering to the protocol, the Civil Aviation Ministry has been reminding the carriers to extend the courtesies.
As criticism mounted over such privileges, the ministry on Wednesday went into a damage control exercise, saying no fresh directive has been issued to airlines to provide special privileges to MPs.
The protocol provides instructions to be followed by all airlines and airport operators in case of MPs and Ministers.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh said no "fresh guidelines" have been issued in this regard but hastened to add, "There may have been a circular in 2007...I am not aware what exactly it says".
"You are saying fresh guidelines have been issued. No such guidelines have been issued," he said.
"No guidelines have been issued to private airlines for extending any protocol to Ministers and MPs," new DGCA chief Prabhat Kumar told PTI, maintaining that it has not given any instruction to private airlines to extend any such facility to MPs.
Air India has been the only airline which has been extending such courtesies to the MPs so far.
Slamming the decision, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said it reflected "a special kind of disconnect with the reality", an apparent reference to demands for austerity from the political class.
Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam said he does not support any such move. "I think it is better to travel like a common man. Moreover, our MPs already get executive class tickets. So, if they want something bigger than this, I feel it is not necessary."
Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel said, "the whole issue of privileges to MPs by Air India or private carriers is blown out of proportion, there is nothing even earlier to suggest that there is preferential treatment."
"Beyond a point, certain courtesies are extended. This is not something to be so much of an issue because every carrier, along with VIPs, also gives a lot treatment to CIPs (commercially important people)," Patel, a former Civil Aviation Minister, said.
CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, who heads the parliamentary panel that deals with civil aviation matters, said, "the privileges are nothing much which are given to MPs. They are just facilitated.... When the MP goes for check-in, special handling takes place. These privileges (which have existed for so long) have been normal at both airports as well as railway stations."
Parliament's 'Committee on Violation of Protocol Norms and Contemptuous Behaviour of government officers with members of Lok Sabha', had raised the issue with the Civil Aviation Ministry last year.
The committee is learnt to have said airports and airlines were not adhering to the guidelines on protocol norms and courtesy to be extended to MPs.