Ajit mum over meeting with Sonia on Etihad deal

Ajit mum over meeting with Sonia on Etihad deal

Ajit mum over meeting with Sonia on Etihad deal

Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh on Thursday met UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi amid speculations that he was unhappy with the clarification issued by Prime Minister’s Office that the Jet-Etihad air services agreement would not be placed before the Cabinet for approval unless objections raised by political leaders were addressed.

Officially, it was said that Ajit Singh’s meeting with Sonia was purely political, but the deal is believed to have come up for discussion. Singh is backing the deal irrespective of the reservations of the PMO and some politicians.

After the meeting, Singh told reporters that he handed over an invite to Sonia for laying the foundation stone for an aviation university to be set up in her constituency Rae Bareilly in Uttar Pradesh. He refused to comment on whether he took up the Jet-Etihad deal with the UPA chairperson.

Earlier, Singh had said: “It is such an important deal. The first big deal in the Civil Aviation Ministry. In terms of FDI, it is bigger than any other deal this year. There are so many dimensions to it. Those opposing the deal are long on politics and short on facts.”

The PMO’s clarification came after the media started reporting on the objections raised by a parliamentary standing committee headed by CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, followed by senior MPs like Jaswant Singh and Dinesh Trivedi, besides Janata Party chief Subramanian Swamy.

All of them had shot off letters to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Sources close to Ajit Singh said the PMO had given its nod in April to 40,000 seats per week in a phased manner over the next few years, accompanied by third party code sharing (handling of traffic with designated airlines of a country other than the two) and domestic code sharing.

The PMO, in its clarification, said the matter would be referred to the Cabinet for its final go ahead only after all contentious issues werre addressed. The PMO had flagged a few issues like the economic affairs department’s reservations on the seat enhancement and possible diversion of long-distance traffic to the United Arab Emirates from India to Europe or North America.