Why Srinagar ousted as embarkation point?
JK Approaches Delhi For Answer
Srinagar, Oct 6: There seems to be more to the issue of no direct Hajj flights from Srinagar this year than meets the eye.
If reports are to be believed, the move—which has drawn flak from various political and non-political quarters in Jammu and Kashmir—has raised a question mark over the ‘international status’ of the Srinagar airport, with reports suggesting that foreign airliners cannot land at the aerodrome in the wake of some tussle over the ‘over-flying rights.’
A New Delhi-based newspaper Saturday surprised the people when it mentioned that foreign airlines are barred from carrying out operations from the Srinagar airport even though it has been designated as an “international airport.”
“Foreign airlines cannot be allowed to operate direct flights from Srinagar as Pakistan does not allow foreign airlines to use its airspace (other than Indian) while flying to and from Srinagar. Foreign Airlines will have to follow a circuitous route, halting in either Delhi or Mumbai,” the newspaper quoted a government official saying.
The newspaper said the problem was foreseen by the Aviation Ministry, which requested the Union Ministry of Home Affairs almost two months back to grant permission for direct flights to Saudi Arabia.
It is for the first time since 2000 that there won’t be a direct flight for Hajjis from Srinagar to Jeddah. “If foreign airlines can’t operate to and from Srinagar, then what is the fun of designating the airport as international?” asked station manager of a commercial airline. “Earlier Air India grounded the Srinagar-Dubai flight permanently, affecting the tourism industry badly. Now the Hajjis from Jammu and Kashmir have to face inconvenience on account of indirect flights from Srinagar. It should be a matter of concern for any concerned government.”
THE ‘DEFENCE AIRPORT’ STORY
Besides the alleged tussle over the ‘over-flying rights’, a news report, published by a prominent wire agency, said the airlines that would be carrying Hajjis from different embarkation points in India, have categorically refused to ferry the pilgrims directly from the Srinagar airport “because the Valley has the Defence aerodrome.”
According to sources, the foreign airlines have their own considerations and priorities while selecting the embarkation points. “Earlier it would be the state-owned Air India that would ferry Hajjis from India. They had no problem in operating from the Srinagar airport, which essentially is a Defence airport. But once it is an international airline, they think twice before operating from such aerodromes,” said an airport official, insisting not to be named.
He said the foreign airlines often perceive the places, where there is a Defence airport, as “disturbed.” “During the recent unrest, the airport had to be closed for the first time since Kargil war in 1999. That issue was given a wide media-hype in India. I guess that might have also played some kind of a spoilsport because once you close down an airport somewhere, it means something is wrong there,” he said. “We can’t rule out the fact that there might be some tussle over the flying rights and also probably over the willingness of the authorities in getting the international flights landed in Srinagar.”
GOVT KNOCKS DELHI DOOR
The Jammu and Kashmir government, not unusually, has knocked New Delhi door for some ‘damage control’ over the issue. It has raised the issue with the Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, who has promised to look into the matter.
The Hajj operations will begin October 9 and 6,700 pilgrims from the state are expected to go this year. “We don’t know the rationale behind no direct Hajj flights. It is a matter of concern for us. We are looking into it and the Chief Minister has raised the issue with the Prime Minister,” said a minister, wishing anonymity. “If there be anything pertaining to flying rights or defence airport, it can be sort out with the concerned ministry in New Delhi.”
Meanwhile the non-operation of direct flights to Jeddah has disappointed Hajjis. They accuse the state government of putting them to trouble. “Every time there happens to be some tussle over the Srinagar airport. The state government has failed to ensure direct flights to Jeddah this year. That is unfortunate. It is bound to affect thousands of Hajjis who would otherwise have a comfortable journey from Srinagar to Jeddah. Now they have to de-board at Delhi or Mumbai and then move on,” said Ghulam Qadir, a Hajj aspirant.
The Srinagar-based AAI officials said they had nothing to do with the issue. “We only know that the Air India lost in the bidding process and now it would be the Saudi Airlines that would ferry the Hajjis. Beyond that we don’t know why Srinagar was taken off as an embarkation point,” said the AAI director.
Lastupdate on : Wed, 6 Oct 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 6 Oct 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 7 Oct 2010 00:00:00 IST
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