Whither air­port se­cu­rity?

The depart­ment re­spon­si­ble for the man­age­ment of an air­port and that for pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity, need to be ac­count­able to a sin­gle au­thor­ity for bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion and con­trol. With­out such restruc­tur­ing, there is a strong pos­si­bil­ity that the malaise will


On the night of June 10, 2015, at around 2145 hours, there was an ugly spat be­tween em­ploy­ees of the Air­ports Au­thor­ity of In­dia (AAI) and the con­sta­bles of the Cen­tral In­dus­trial Se­cu­rity Force (CISF) de­ployed at Karipur In­ter­na­tional Air­port, Kozhikode, Ker­ala. In the episode, a con­sta­ble of the CISF iden­ti­fied as S.S. Ya­dav lost is life on ac­count of a gun­shot in­jury to his cra­nium and left three oth­ers in­jured in the vi­o­lent clash be­tween the two groups.

As per re­ports in the media, CISF per­son­nel on duty at a point of en­try into the air­port re­port­edly asked a se­nior of­fi­cial of the Air­port Fire and Res­cue Ser­vices named Sunny Thomas to show his en­try pass. When the lat­ter re­port­edly re­fused to do so and at­tempted to force his way past the check­point, CISF con­sta­ble Ya­dav, who was armed, in­ter­vened. In the en­su­ing scuf­fle with Thomas, the gun in Ya­dav’s pos­ses­sion went off ac­ci­den­tally caus­ing se­ri­ous head in­jury to which he suc­cumbed soon af­ter. On learn­ing of the in­ci­dent, the other CISF per­son­nel on duty turned vi­o­lent lead­ing to a clash be­tween the per­son­nel of the two agen­cies man­ning the air­port. Pas­sen­gers and visi­tors to the air­port in­clud­ing taxi driv­ers also fell vic­tim to the wrath of the CISF per­son­nel who had gone berserk turn­ing the air­port vir­tu­ally into a war zone as de­scribed by eye­wit­nesses. As a re­sult of the clash, the air­port was shut down for 10 hours dis­rupt­ing sched­uled in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic oper­a­tions. It is un­der­stood that in the re­cent past, there had been an on­go­ing dis­pute be­tween the per­son­nel of AAI and CISF over manda­tory in­spec­tion of en­try pass at the gate as a re­sult of which the sit­u­a­tion at Karipur In­ter­na­tional Air­port had for some time been tense.

Es­tab­lished on March 10, 1969, un­der an Act of Par­lia­ment, the CISF was re­cast as an ‘Armed Force of the Union of In­dia’ on June 15, 1983, once again un­der another Act of Par­lia­ment. Raised ini­tially with 2,800 per­son­nel, the strength of CISF to­day stands at over 1,65,000 and is slated to rise to 2,00,000 be­fore the end of the decade. Func­tion­ing un­der the con­trol of the Min­istry of Home Af­fairs (MHA), the CISF is the largest in­dus­trial se­cu­rity force in the world pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity cover to over 300 in­dus­trial units in the coun­try. It is also en­trusted with the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity at all com­mer­cial air­ports in In­dia whether un­der pri­vate own­er­ship or op­er­ated by AAI.

In the past, the re­spon­si­bil­ity of pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity to com­mer­cial air­ports lay with the civil po­lice of the state in which the air­port was lo­cated. How­ever, the pro­posal to hand over air­port se­cu­rity to CISF was ini­ti­ated af­ter the in­ci­dent of hi­jack­ing of In­dian Air­lines flight 814 in 1999. In Fe­bru­ary 2000, Jaipur be­came the first air­port where the CISF was made re­spon­si­ble for pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity. Cur­rently, CISF pro­vides se­cu­rity ser­vices at around 60 air­ports in the coun­try, both in­ter­na­tional and do­mes­tic. How­ever, a no­table ano­maly that af­flicts the sys­tem is that the AAI and the CISF that to­gether are re­spon­si­ble for the man­age­ment of a com­mer­cial air­port are un­der the con­trol of sep­a­rate min­istries of the Cen­tral Gov­ern­ment. Un­for­tu­nately, per­cep­tions of the two min­istries may dif­fer. This could be one of the pos­si­ble rea­sons why re­la­tions be­tween the two de­part­ments in ques­tion have not al­ways been cor­dial.

While the clash of the scale wit­nessed at Karipur had not been re­ported so far, there have been the oc­ca­sional tus­sle be­tween per­son­nel of the two de­part­ments in ques­tion that have had ad­verse ef­fect on oper­a­tions. Also, there has been the oc­ca­sional re­port of con­flict be­tween pas­sen­gers and CISF per­son­nel and some­times even al­le­ga­tions of mis­be­haviour by the lat­ter with pas­sen­gers in­clud­ing women and chil­dren. An ob­jec­tive anal­y­sis would re­veal that both the CISF per­son­nel and pas­sen­gers con­trib­ute to the con­flict. As per sources in the CISF, “The public in gen­eral bear an an­i­mos­ity to men in uni­form, a deep-rooted mind­set that gets in­grained over time”. On the other hand, it needs to be un­der­stood that given the strata of so­ci­ety from which per­son­nel of the CISF are drawn, there is un­doubt­edly the need to carry out reg­u­lar re­ori­en­ta­tion pro­grammes to en­able them in­ter­act with pas­sen­gers with a higher de­gree of el­e­gance. But what should be of greater con­cern to the gov­ern­ment is that such in­ci­dents im­pinge on the in­ter­na­tional im­age of the man­age­ment of the civil avi­a­tion in­dus­try in In­dia.

It is about time the gov­ern­ment re­views and re­struc­tures the man­age­ment of com­mer­cial air­ports in the coun­try. The depart­ment re­spon­si­ble for the man­age­ment of an air­port and that for pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity need to be ac­count­able to a sin­gle au­thor­ity for bet­ter co­or­di­na­tion and con­trol. With­out such restruc­tur­ing, there is a strong pos­si­bil­ity that the malaise will per­sist.


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