A group of ministers (GoM) headed by external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee, which has to take a view on the new civil aviation policy before the Union cabinet approves it, may finally meet in the first week of January and possibly rush through a truncated policy to overcome past delays.
The much debated civil aviation policy, called ‘Vision 2020’, seeks to liberalize international flying routes for Indian carriers, restructure the Airports Authority of India and set the road map for reforms in a sector that has witnessed explosive traffic growth in the last three years.
Civil aviation minister Praful Patel
However, issues such as early international flying licences have been met by opposition from some of the group members and the group has not met since August after its first meeting. Railways minister Lalu Prasad, for one, had opposed any tampering with international eligibility criteria for domestic airlines before they complete a minimum five-year operating experience norm during the GoM’s first meeting, according to senior government officials.
A top government official familiar with the process, who did not wish to be named, said that in an attempt to break the impasse, the GoM scheduled to meet on 3 January may give the larger policy a go-ahead and leave controversial issues aside for further debate. “I think everyone has understood that if there is, maybe some sort of issue of this kind, maybe they will put it aside or say that one group will look at it, and let the cabinet decide (the rest of the policy). There is nothing earth-shaking (in the rest of it),” he said.
“They are also keen that they should not hold up a larger policy framework on the grounds that there is some sort of lobbying,” the official added.
A civil aviation ministry official, who did not wish to be identified, said the GoM had not been able to meet yet because not all the 12 members of the group were available at proposed dates. An option of holding the meeting with a quorum was shot down by some members, said the official. Apart from Mukherjee, Yadav and civil aviation minister Praful Patel, the group includes finance minister P. Chidambaram, defence minister A.K. Antony and agriculture minister Sharad Pawar.
Both Kingfisher Airlines Ltd (together with Deccan Aviation Ltd) and Jet Airways (India) Ltd are believed to have been lobbying hard with the government to secure a favourable outcome on international flying licences. A clearance of the policy would mean the two-year-old Kingfisher Airlines could start its overseas operations earlier than mandated, taking on 14-year-old Jet Airways on international routes.
Patel last fortnight said he expects the policy to sail through soon after Parliament’s winter session.
The acquisition of a 46% stake in Deccan by Kingfisher’s parent, the UB Group, earlier this year could allow the Vijay Mallya-controlled airline to fly overseas next year since Deccan would have completed five years of flying by then.