Sunday, February 18, 2018

Welcome To The Worst Airport In India

Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose would definitely not have approved. A strict disciplinarian and a stickler for order and efficiency, the founder of the Indian National Army (INA) would have been horrified by the prevailing state of affairs at the sprawling swanky airport in Kolkata named after him.

The present integrated terminal (T2) of the airport was inaugurated by former president Pranab Mukherjee on 20 January 2013. The massive steel and glass structure even won accolades and the new terminal was adjudged by the Airport Council International as 'Best Improved Terminal' (for Asia-Pacific region) award for the two consecutive years of 2014 and 2015. It's another matter that the old terminal (T1) was so bad that even repainting its walls – leave apart constructing a glitzy new one – --would have been considered a vast improvement.

But the new terminal always suffered from an intrinsic organic malaise: it's management lay not with a private operator but the Airports Authority of India (AAI). The heavily unionised and wayward AAI employees are singularly responsible for the present sorry state of the airport that was built at a cost of Rs 2,300 crore. The AAI Employees Union had consistently and successfully resisted moves by the Union Civil Aviation Ministry and the AAI management (which knows the nature of its lower level employees very well) to privatise operations at the airport.

The result (of AAI handling airport operations) is there for all to see. The Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport is a living testimony to the truth of the adage of not judging a book by its cover. The airport structure looks good and the architecture is distinctive. But many things are rotten inside. The washrooms are in a state of perpetual mess and emanate a foul odour. Leaking faucets, stained walls and overflowing bins are the result of callous staff who know that no matter what they do (or don't do), their jobs are secure.
18/02/18 Jaideep Mazumdar/Swarajya