Govt incapable of preventing predatory behaviour on part of airlines: Cong
Senior Congress leader K.C. Venugopal and Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia engaged in a verbal duel on Twitter over the state of the aviation sector
The Congress on Sunday stepped up its attack on the Centre over rising airfares, alleging that the government has been incapable of preventing "predatory behaviour" on part of airlines and has "facilitated a loot at the hands of crony airport operators".
Senior Congress leader K.C. Venugopal and Union minister Jyotiraditya Scindia engaged in a verbal duel on Twitter over the state of the aviation sector.
The government had last week asked airlines to devise a mechanism to ensure reasonable airfares amid a surge in air ticket prices, particularly on certain routes that were earlier served by grounded budget carrier Go First.
Venugopal on Saturday had said it was criminal to lift caps on airfares in August 2022 when the economy was in the "doldrums" and asked if the government has planned any "intervention" to ensure that consumers do not suffer.
Hitting back at Venugopal, Civil Aviation Minister Scindia in the wee hours of Sunday tweeted that even as the global economy continues to struggle, "ours continues to stand as a beacon of hope" with a growth rate of 6.0% 6.5% in FY 2023 24.
"That said, there is no reason that a deregulated sector like aviation should be put under government control — the repercussions of which have known to dent the growth potential of this sector in the past," he said.
Scindia said it's important to note that a sector that was earlier 'elitist' has been truly democratised under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
"We have doubled the number of airports, helipads and water aerodromes from 74 to 148. Domestic daily pax traffic has broken all past records. Connectivity has finally begun to reach the last mile, and soon India will emerge as an international civil aviation hub. Let's get the facts right K C Venugopal Ji!" he said.
Slamming Scindia, Venugopal in another tweet Sunday said hard facts and everyday suffering of the middle class cannot be wished away by distorting figures and misrepresenting the actual facts on the ground.
"With youth unemployment at 23% (a global record), 23 crore people pushed into poverty, and 80cr Indians rely on the govt for food security tells you that these economic growth numbers is only of, for, and by the rich," he alleged.
"The middle class continues to suffer under the twin attacks of unemployment and crippling price rise, compounded by your hands-off approach to regulating prices in the aviation sector as well," Venugopal said in a no-holds-barred attack at Scindia.
Citing the example of Kannur Airport's current schedule, which stipulates 252 monthly Go First flights, Venugopal said not a single flight has been replaced after Go First went bust.
"At Pune airport, 30% slots are vacant due to the GoFirst crisis and SpiceJet's poor performance. If the Indian economy was indeed growing, airlines would be increasing their capacity. Instead, they are being allowed to charge sky-high rates to remain afloat," he said.
"In March 2023 itself, airlines had written to the AERA (Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India) claiming that Adani-owned airports are proposing exorbitant tariffs, especially through high landing and parking charges at Lucknow, Ahmedabad and Mangalore airports," he said, citing a media report.
Even 48 hours after the train tragedy, flights to and from Bhubaneshwar remained extremely expensive, with Bhubaneshwar-Chennai even costing Rs 42,000-60,000, he claimed adding that it was yet another case of a toothless advisory.
"Instead of answering about the excise tax burden imposed by the Centre, you are blaming states for something which is rectifiable at the central government level," Venugopal said.
Even as "we speak, flights on key routes such as Delhi-Bengaluru are beyond the reach of the common man", the Congress leader said.
"@JM_Scindia are you still going to defend these rates? This government has been incapable of curbing this price rise, preventing predatory behaviour on part of airlines, and has facilitated a loot at the hands of crony airport operators. That is the true picture of the aviation sector under PM Modi," he said.
Scindia had earlier hit back at Venugopal's attack last evening, saying portions of the routes that were earlier being served by Go First have already been allotted to other airlines.
"Also, you have chosen to turn a blind eye to the immense growth that this sector has witnessed since 2014. Passenger count which stood at 122 million in 2014 is currently at 280 million — a jump of 130%! Under UDAN, we have operationalised 475 routes and flown over 116.06 lakh passengers," he said.
"We have advised airlines to self-regulate their fares under a certain limit - the result of which is that prices have come down by 14%-60% since 6th June 2023. It is a rather tone-deaf assumption. The financial functioning of airports is a private matter of the operator," Scindia said.
After the deregulation of airfares, they are market-driven and are neither established nor regulated by the government. Airline pricing runs in multiple levels (buckets or Reservation Booking Designators).