Panel Grounds Min­istry Pro­posal to Auc­tion Bi­lat­eral Fly­ing Rights

Says these are pacts be­tween two na­tions, can’t be auc­tioned

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New Delhi: A panel that in­cludes In­dia’s top fed­eral of­fi­cial did not favour a pro­posal that had sought the auc­tion­ing of fly­ing rights to air­lines fly­ing to the coun­try from its im­me­di­ate neigh­bour­hood.

The Com­mit­tee of Sec­re­taries (CoS), which met in the sec­ond week of Fe­bru­ary, did not favour the civil avi­a­tion min­istry’s pro­posal on the ground that bi­lat­eral fly­ing rights are treaties signed be­tween two coun­tries on the ba­sis of equal­ity and are not can­di­dates to go un­der the ham­mer. The Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice and the fed­eral cab­i­net had asked the spe­cially con­sti­tuted CoS to ex­am­ine the pro­posal made in June 2016.

“Bar­ring the avi­a­tion sec­re­tary, all other mem­bers, in­clud­ing the cab­i­net sec­re­tary, were of the view that bi­lat­eral en­ti­tle­ments are signed be­tween two coun­tries on the ba­sis of equal­ity and that auc­tion­ing them may not be the right idea,” said a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial, who was aware of this is­sue. The avi­a­tion sec­re­tary, how­ever, dif­fered, cit­ing Euro­pean prece­dence to back the pro­posed auc­tion­ing of rights. The an­nounce­ment was part of the civil avi­a­tion pol­icy the cab­i­net had cleared in June 2016. It re­quired de­sig- nated car­ri­ers of coun­tries within 5,000 km fly­ing ra­dius and seek­ing fly­ing rights be­yond those al­ready agreed to bid for bi­lat­eral priv­i­leges. Both In­dian & over­seas car­ri­ers said the pol­icy mil­i­tates against the uni­ver­sally-ap­plied prin­ci­ples of bi­lat­eral en­ti­tle­ments. Avi­a­tion min­is­ter Ashok Ga­jap­ati Raju and his then junior Ma­hesh Sharma had diver­gent views on the sub­ject too.

To fur­ther ex­am­ine the pro­posal, the Prime Min­is­ter’s Of­fice and cab­i­net or­dered the con­sti­tu­tion of the CoS: It is headed by the cab­i­net sec­re­tary. Mem­bers of the CoS are sec­re­taries of the depart­ment of in­dus­trial pro­mo­tion and pol­icy (DIPP) and of avi­a­tion, and for­eign min­istries and chief ex­ec­u­tive of the plan­ning think-tank, NITI Aayog. “The CoS has asked us to ex­am­ine the is­sue again and we are dis­cussing it in­ter­nally with stake­hold­ers, in­clud­ing air­lines,” said an avi­a­tion min­istry of­fi­cial, who did not want to be iden­ti­fied. An­a­lysts wel­comed the pro­posal’s ini­tial re­jec­tion by the CoS.

“The de­ci­sion to auc­tion bi­lat­eral (en­ti­tle­ments) is le­gally and strate­gi­cally un­wise and I am happy that this de­ci­sion is likely to be changed,” said Kapil Kaul, CEO for Cen­tre for Asia Pa­cific Avi­a­tion in In­dia. “In­dia needs a clear bi­lat­eral strat­egy, which is well bal­anced, eq­ui­table and not driven in one di­rec­tion. In­stead of auc­tions, we need a new frame­work for bi­lat­eral al­lo­ca­tion, which is in na­tional eco­nomic in­ter­ests and one which can be de­fended later against any au­dits.”

Auc­tion­ing of fly­ing rights was part of civil avi­a­tion pol­icy the Cab­i­net had cleared in June 2016

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