NEW DELHI: Spiralling cost of domestic air travel has provided fresh fodder for a war of words between Congress organisation general secretary KC Venugopal and Union civil aviation minister Jyotiraditya Scindia, with the Congress MP issuing a new counter to the minister’s clarifications to his barb a day ago that the government’s promise of making air travel affordable for the common man was nothing but a “cruel joke” on the people.
With Scindia referring to Venugopal’s remarks on the aviation sector as “undiscerning and ill-informed”, the Congress MP shot back with “hard facts” that he said cannot be wished away by “distorting figures and misrepresenting the actual facts on the ground”.
Venugopal alleged that youth unemployment at 23% and inflation served as twin attacks on the middle class. Added to this, the aviation ministry’s inability to rein in fares, he said, has worsened the condition of India’s middle class.
“Take the example of Kannur Airport’s current schedule, which stipulates 252 monthly GoFirst flights… not a single flight has been replaced after GoFirst went bust. At Pune airport, 30% slots are vacant due to the GoFirst crisis and SpiceJet’s poor performance. If the Indian economy was indeed growing, airlines would be increasing their capacity. Instead, they are being allowed to charge sky-high rates to remain afloat,” Venugopal said.
Quoting reports of Adani-owned airports proposing exorbitant tariffs and high landing and parking charges at Lucknow, Ahmedabad and Mangalore airports, the Congress leader also pointed to the lack of intervention by the government in reining in inflated air fares after the Balasore tragedy, with flights to and from Bhubaneshwar costing between Rs 42,000 and 60,000 a piece.
Referring to the ministry’s advisory to airlines to rein in prices as “toothless”, and rubbishing Scindia’s charge that opposition-led states were charging higher VAT on aviation turbine fuel, Venugopal said, “Instead of answering about the excise tax burden imposed by the Centre, you are blaming states for something which is rectifiable at the central government level…”
Earlier, Scindia had defended the state of the aviation sector and the Indian economy, and said both were in the “pink of health”.

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