Protests Fail to Halt India Airport Privatization

 - September 15, 2019, 12:36 PM

A move to privatize major airports held by the government-owned Airports Authority of India (AAI), which owns around 100 airports, has met with stiff resistance from the many unions representing more than 85,000 airport employees who fear losing their jobs. Union members are protesting the privatization plan under which AAI-owned airports would transfer to private entities. Under the plan, AAI retains a minority stake while Adani owns a majority stake.

The airport employee unions recently formed a joint forum to voice their common concern and to hold peaceful protests. As the government moves ahead with its plan to privatize 13 more airports, the protests stand to get louder and a strike could ensue.

“Why does AAI, which has brought these airports to a profitable state, have to be arm-twisted into giving these airports away?” asked Harindra Tiwari, a senior official in one of the airports unions. “Monopoly of private bodies is very dangerous. The AAI has strong capabilities in airport development and operations.”

AAI already has transferred six airports to concessionaire Adani Enterprises for operation, management, and development through the public-private partnership. They include AAI-owned facilities in Lucknow, Ahmedabad, Jaipur, Mangaluru, Thiruvananthapuram, and Guwahati.

The Delhi and Mumbai airports, which underwent privatization 13 years ago, proved a model for efficiency and improved quality, said Ravi Shankar Prasad, minister of law and justice.

 “While privatization is good, government monopoly should not be replaced with a single private company monopoly,” cautioned Vishok Mansingh, CEO at Mumbai-based Vhan Aeroservices. “Audits should be done regularly to oversee costs do not overshoot original commitment.” However, Mansingh sees little chance for a change in government plans for privatization, despite agitation by union-member staff. “Times have changed and efficiencies have to be brought in,” he concluded.