The growing dissonance between Union civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju and his junior colleague, Minister of State (MoS) for civil aviation Mahesh Sharma, seems to have held up several policy decisions — including those on charging extra for check-in baggage and the proposal for the Greater Noida airport.
“We have not approached or issued any instruction to the DGCA regarding levying charges on passengers for carrying check-in baggage. As far as the airport at Jewar is concerned, no word or approval has come in from the state government, whose consent is a must for the project,” a senior official said.
Raju belongs to the TDP; Sharma is the BJP MP from Gautam Buddha Nagar, of whose constituency the proposed international airport at Jewar will be part of.
On June 25, Sharma approved the proposal for the NCR’s second airport — in Raju’s absence, and without the Uttar Pradesh government’s clearance. Asked whether the proposal had been forwarded for the approval of the Cabinet — as Sharma had indicated — Raju had said on Thursday, “I won’t know… Land is a state subject, aviation a central subject. Both the state and the central government have to be on board… I don’t even know whether it (proposal for a new airport) should go to the Cabinet.”
Earlier in Rajya Sabha on December 9, 2014, Raju had said the government had no plan to change a rule that stipulates a minimum 150 km between two airports, virtually ending hope for the Greater Noida airport. Sharma had promised to resuscitate the project before he assumed office on November 12, 2014. Raju also said the decision on the proposal to charge passengers for check-in baggage should be left to aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). “Nothing is free, everything is paid for, whether it is your baggage or ticket or things like that… Airlines at one point of time were considered elitist, now it is not and there are multiple people who (travel by air). We will do nothing to discourage innovation but whatever is accepted by the regulator has to have a reason,” Raju had said.
Raju spoke days after Sharma said on June 27 that he had directed the ministry not to consider such a proposal from some no-frills carriers as the move would discourage the potential travellers. “We have got a proposal from low-cost airlines to charge for check-in baggage. We have rejected it and there will be no consideration at the aviation ministry level. We will not want to put this burden on passengers,” he had said.
Some domestic budget carriers have proposed a charge for check-in baggage, while incentivising travelling light through a ‘Zero Baggage Fare’ scheme. Passengers can now carry up to 15 kg of check-in luggage free.
The ministers have also been disagreeing on regulating air fares in the country. While Raju has on several occasions said that putting caps and floors on fares would have implications and that pricing should be left to the carriers, Sharma has held that mechanisms would be put in place to check ticket costs. Sharma, however, declined to comment on his differences with Raju.
In May, Raju had said: “We realised that going into floors and caps will push up costs for some and pull down costs for others. Fares are not regulated anywhere in the world. The problem that we have is last-minute emergencies. Is it not possible to ask the airlines to reserve some seats for emergency travellers and release the seats last minute for people travelling due to an emergency…” With the DGCA analysis for air fares in 2014 not detecting any irregularities in price movements, the ministry dropped plans for fare regulation.
Sharma said, “Predatory pricing by airlines is a big issue. A large section of the public and even parliamentarians have raised the issue that airlines charge Rs 30,000-40,000 for a ticket when a passenger has to travel in some emergency.”