New Delhi, Feb. 1. (PTI): Hundreds of employees of state- owned Airports Authority of India today began a nation-wide indefinite strike protesting against privatisation of Mumbai and Delhi airports but flights across the country operated smoothly as Air Traffic Controllers reported for work.
Barring Mumbai, where police resorted to lathicharge to disperse a group of striking Union employees who were staging a sit-in, there were no reports of any untoward incident as AAI workers staged demonstrations and raised anti-government and anti-Sonia Gandhi slogans outside airports but did not block the movement of travellers.
"No disruption or delay in flight operations has been reported so far. We all are ensuring smooth functioning of the services", AAI spokesperson Premnath told PTI here.
All in-coming and out-going flights operated on schedule in Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai and other cities with the agitating workers saying that they would continue with the protest till the Government rolled back its decision to hand over the modernisation process of the Delhi and Mumbai airports – AAI’s major revenue earners – to private consortia.
While Premnath said that all contingency measures had been taken to ensure normality, Patna Airport Director Atul Dikshit said IAF personnel had been drafted from air bases in Darbhanga and Bitha as all the 100-odd AAI employees there had struck work.
Though Air Traffic Controllers are not on strike, the ATC guild has expressed solidarity with the agitating workers. In Guwahati, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Imphal, Dimapur AAI employees did not join the strike. Union spokesmen in Hyderabad, Guwahati and Bhubaneswar said they would chalk out their line of action after talks with leaders in regional hubs.
Security was heightened at many airports with additional deployment of forces. In Kolkata, CISF and CRPF personnel were deployed in strength to maintain order.
Even as the striking employees got support from the Left allies of the UPA Government, Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel announced here that the Cabinet had approved the Delhi and Mumbai airport modernisation plan, bids for which were opened yesterday and allotted to private consortia.
CPI (M) leader Brinda Karat described the Government decision as a "shameless surrender" to private parties and said they would intensify their agitation and take up the matter in Parliament.
"We are not against modernisation. We are only opposing handing over the process to private players. The Airport Authority of India is fully capable of doing that," Branch Secretary, Airport Authority Employees Union, Pramod Sharma said.