Tuesday, July 31, 2012

NEWS | Ajit Singh: How civil aviation minister has fared on policy front

Kisaan leader Ajit Singh has shaken up things in his seven months as civil aviation minister. Some welcome his many initiatives, others criticise them. But no one can accuse him of what this government has been pronounced guilty of – policy paralysis, writes Anindya Upadhyay.The seven months that Ajit Singh has been at the helm of the civil aviation ministry have been tumultuous - both in terms of government policy and the business of airlines. He has acted tough at times - be it staring down striking Air India pilots into submission, or firing a mercurial bureaucrat. At other times, his decisions have been criticised as being soft on some private airlines (read Kingfisher). He has set new rules - opening up fuel imports, and reversed old policy - making it easier for more private airlines to fly more international routes. But that's just the publicly visible part of his job. Behind the scenes, he has been unrelenting in his efforts for breakthroughs. He lobbied within the government to push through a Rs 30,000 crore bailout for Air India.

He is lobbying outside too, even with difficult allies like Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Bannerjee, to muster support for a proposal to increase FDI in airlines to 49% from 26%, ministry sources say.

"The overall sentiment prior to his joining was negative, which was largely due to no progress achieved during his predecessor's (Mr Ravi) tenure," says Kapil Kaul, CEO, global airline consultancy firm Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA) South Asia. "I was surprised at the speed with which he (Singh) has moved forward."

That's one view. Air India pilots, or those close to EKBharat Bhushan, the former chief of DGCA, the aviation regulator, or some known Kingfisher baiters are unlikely to buy that. Yes, Singh has many critics, but no one can accuse him of inaction. That, in an environment where the rest of the government has been crippled by deep policy paralysis, is being seen as a virtue.


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