Public was kept in the dark about the fate of HAL airport until last moment
Notification was signed by Joint Secretary
Brunner had sent email to employees on May 14
Bangalore: The notification of the Ministry of Civil Aviation declaring the closure of HAL Airport surfaced in the public realm on Tuesday even though it had been published on May 16.
Those opposing the airport project, particularly the Airports Authority of India employees, were awaiting the notification, which would have provided them with a “cause of action” in their fight to keep the HAL Airport alive.
The notification, produced before the Karnataka High Court by the Bengaluru International Airport Limited (BIAL), cited “contractual commitments” for the closure of the HAL Airport. It stated that “consequent of the commissioning of the Bengaluru International Airport at Devanahalli, with effect from 00.01 hours of May 23, the HAL Airport at Bangalore will no longer be available for commercial civil aviation operations except at times of national emergency”.
The Joint Secretary in the Civil Aviation Ministry, R.K. Singh, signed the notification.
A. Ravichandran, an activist of Bangalore City Connect, which had filed a public interest petition in the High Court, told The Hindu that “today’s revelation in court that that the notification was actually issued on May 16 shows that BIAL was fully in the loop whereas the public has been in the dark about the fate of the HAL Airport”. “There has been no transparency in the matter,” he added.
Ironically, two days before the formal issuance of the notification, Albert Brunner, the CEO of BIAL, in an email sent to employees and vendors associated with the airport project on May 14, stated, “we [BIAL] received a verbal confirmation for a ‘silent’ opening on May 23 from the Ministry yesterday (that is, May 13). Significantly, Brunner added, “The gazette notification from the Ministry on this is expected in a day or two.” He added that “a silent opening means that we will open the airport in a full-fledged way (that means for all traffic), but without any ceremony. No dignitaries will be present. A formal ceremony in the presence of State and Central Government will take place in June.”
Brunner added that “another highlight” was “that the Ministry has confirmed that the HAL Airport will not be operational following the opening of our airport, which was also one of the most heartburning issues for us”.
S.R. Santhanam, President of the Airports Authority Employees’ Union (AAEU) told The Hindu that his union would “challenge the notification in court, just was we had in Hyderabad”.
“Not only us [the AAEU], but the entire public has been taken by surprise by the surreptitious manner in which the Government has acted,” he said. Mr. Santhanam said Union Minister for Civil Aviation Praful Patel had promised to reconsider the concession agreements signed with private operators of airports at Hyderabad and Bangalore after the employees struck work in February this year. “The minister made a gentleman’s promise and what has happened since then is a serious breach of trust,” he added.