Civil aviation minister’s shocking excuse for Delhi airport roof collapse

IGIA handled 7.36 crore passengers last year, charging Rs 150 per passenger. How much of the Rs 1,000 crore-ish is utilised for maintenance and safety?

A portion of the Terminal-1 roof collapses on vehicles amid rain in Delhi (photo: PTI)
A portion of the Terminal-1 roof collapses on vehicles amid rain in Delhi (photo: PTI)

A.J. Prabal

The tragic death of a cab driver at Terminal 1 of Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi, when a part of the roof collapsed and beams crushed his head in his seat, has raised questions on maintenance of the airport.

While IGIA Terminals 2 and 3 are busier and handle more air traffic and passengers, Terminal 1, which is the oldest, has undergone several improvements in the past few years. Indeed, a new and renovated Terminal 1 was inaugurated by Prime Minister Modi as recently as March this year.

Union minister of civil aviation Ram Mohan Naidu Kinjarapu made a clumsy attempt to evade responsibility on the government's behalf, telling the media, "...I want to clarify that the building inaugurated by PM Narendra Modi (in March 2024) is on the other side, and the building that collapsed here is an old building and was opened in 2009...".

Was the minister suggesting that PM Modi inaugurated in March ‘one side’ of the terminal building? Media reports and the official releases at the time, however, were categorical in saying that a new and renovated Terminal 1 was being inaugurated by the PM after extensive maintenance, repair and renovation.

The civil aviation minister’s ‘excuse’ and the implicit allegation that the UPA government in power in 2009 should be held responsible for the accident caused some amusement and much outrage.

Instead of expressing his shock and foregrounding his personal commitment to get to the bottom of the accident, the minister appeared more concerned with saving the prime minister’s face. It certainly had netizens marvelling.

Would the government then refuse to take responsibility for railway safety on the plea that the British built the Indian Railways in the 19th century? Or would it shirk its responsibility to maintain nuclear power plants and keep nuclear warheads safe because they were made before the ‘Modi era’ started in 2024?

Some of the outrage over the minister’s appalling ‘excuse’ elicited some interesting ripostes on social media:

Bizarre excuses about when the roof was built. Safety testing and maintenance are a duty of the government that has been in power since 2014. Has Modi's official residence, built earlier, not been tested and maintained after 2014?
Next time a train derails they will tell us that the coaches that derailed were built during Congress Govt time??
Are they saying that in the ten years they were in power they did no maintenance or safety checks? That when they relaunched the terminal with such fanfare they did not bother about the structural weaknesses? This is just pathetic & shameful
Perhaps there should be a Ministry of Excuses which can rapidly come up with reasons for failure; orchestrate the supply of appropriate toolkits to Godi media; and manage publicity for the visits of the Minister to the disaster site. This ministry could be given to TDP or JDU.
Not our job to maintain anything that predates 2014, say for instance the constitution and most of our nuclear power plants?
Indian Railways was built by the British in 1840s, right?
We should tag every building as UPA or NDA so that everyone knows instantly whether Nehru is to be blamed or not.

One wag recommended that INDIA bloc MPs in particular don a shiny yellow hard hat while walking into that other very important new construction — the nation's new parliament building. Who knows about these floors and ceilings...?

The minister’s ‘excuse’ appeared even more embarrassing for the government because a part of the roof at Jabalpur airport came crashing down just the day before, on Thursday, 27 June. This airport terminal was also inaugurated by PM Modi in March.

Fortunately, nobody was injured at Jabalpur.

Earlier this year, a similar accident had taken place at Guwahati airport, when rainwater flooded the terminal building, falling in through the gaping roof.

Nor are airports the only new infrastructure projects that are collapsing.

The much vaunted and publicised Pragati Maidan underpass in Delhi, built at a cost of Rs 777 crore last year ahead of the G20 summit, has already been shut down twice after due to being flooded by rain.

At least four new bridges in Bihar, one of them yet to be thrown open to the public, are reported to have collapsed in the past few weeks.

The newly consecrated Ram Temple has reported seepage of water through its grandiose roof, the new railway station at Ayodhya is flooded and newly laid roads in the temple town have caved in. This has raised questions of quality and how the contracts were awarded for execution.

Cracks were also reported on the approach road to the Atal Setu in Mumbai.

The user fee charged from airline passengers is supposed to cover every possible facility, from escalators to baggage check to the washroom. Therefore, the collapse of the canopy or the roof at Terminal 1 and at Jabalpur raises questions around maintenance — and compensation.

While an official inquiry is on, it remains to be seen whether the government is able to fix accountability and identify who is culpable.

At the same time, while the government has promised compensation to the deceased and the injured, it remains to be seen how much it amounts to and whether it remains a token Rs 5 lakh or 10 lakh — surely a pittance compared to the Rs 1,000 crore of user fees collected by Delhi Airport over the last year.

While we wait, it's possibly a good thing that the new Ayodhya airport helpfully advertises its in-house medical facilities are up and running?

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