DGCA guide on treating MPs as VIPs leads to row

A fresh missive by the country's aviation regulator to airlines, asking them to adhere to norms on special treatment to MPs, on Wednesday rekindled a debate on VIP culture, with a section of politicians questioning the move.

According to the existing protocol, the MPs have special privileges like access to reserved lounges, free parking and free access to terminal building and visitor’s gallery, besides free tea, coffee and water.

The Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) wrote to the private airlines on January 3, saying that Parliament’s “Committee on violation of protocol norms and contemptuous behaviour of government officers with members of Lok Sabha” had raised the issue with the Civil Aviation Ministry. In its letter, the DGCA asked the airlines to submit a list of nodal or protocol officers to the Civil Aviation Ministry.

As content of the letter became public, a furore followed with Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh and DGCA Prabhat Kumar saying no fresh guidelines were issued.

Minister of State K C Venugopal, on August 8 last year, referred to complaints from the MPs regarding non-adherence to the protocol. “The protocol is to be followed by all concerned, including private airports and airlines,” he said in the Lok Sabha.

The DGCA’s fresh letter came following a meeting on December 16. The minutes of the meeting were also sent to the airlines.

Reacting to the issue, Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah said it reflected “a special kind of disconnect with the reality”. Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam said he did not support such a move. “I think it is better to travel like a common man. Moreover, our MPs already get executive class tickets. So, if they want something bigger than this, I feel it is not necessary,” he said.

Heavy Industries Minister Praful Patel had a different view. “The whole issue of privileges to MPs by Air India or private carriers is blown out of proportion, there is nothing to suggest that there is preferential treatment,” he said.

“Beyond a point, certain courtesies are extended. This is not something to be made an issue because every carrier, along with VIPs, also give a lot of treatment to the commercially important people,” Patel, a former civil aviation minister, said.

CPM leader Sitaram Yechury, who heads a parliamentary panel that deals with civil aviation matters, said: “Privileges are nothing much which are given to MPs. They are just facilitated. When the MP goes for check in, special handling takes place. These privileges have been normal at both airports as well as railway stations.”

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