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(Image Courtesy: IATA)

It was amusing to hear other day Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju describing consultations on draft civil aviation policy (CAP) as “never done before”.

Mr. Raju should know that consultations on draft CAP with all stakeholders have been held at least twice earlier – in Q1 2000 when National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was in its 2nd tenure and in Q1 2012 when United Progressive Alliance (UPA) was in power.

Mr. Raju made his self-gratification comment while unveiling revised draft CAP on 30th October 2015. He had released draft CAP on 10th November 2014. This column contains a few ‘never done before’ innovations in governance, which he should pursue.

At the event, Civil Aviation Secretary (CAS) R.N. Choubey reportedly stated: “The draft policy is in line with the Prime Minister’s directive that the policy should promote aviation in a big way and take flying to the masses.”

Ex-PM, late Inder Kumar Gujral, might be chuckling (if not ridiculing) in the heaven at this Big Bang CAP Show.

It was Mr. Gujral, who had set the CAP ball rolling about 20 years back from the Himalayan foothills. And the policy-makers are still having a ball with his initiative!

According to a UNI report dated-lined 7 June 1997, Mr. Gujral expressed extreme displeasure at India’s CAP at a meeting with businessmen while on visit to Nepal.

As put by the story, “I am making a confession,” Gujral said in Kathmandu. “I am totally disappointed with our policy.” He hoped CAS M.K. Kaw who was present on the occasion would “record his statement”.

And Kaw (as ex-CAS) did echo Mr. Gujral’s frustration in April 2006 in the report of the Committee on review of Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) which he chaired.

Kaw Committee recorded: “It is a matter of concern that India still awaits a comprehensive civil aviation policy and as a consequence, the Civil Aviation Act.”

To be fair to Mr. Kaw and the then Civil Aviation Minister C.M. Ibrahim, they took Mr. Gujral’s displeasure seriously. Answering a question on PM’s CAP comment in Rajya Sabha on 29th July 1997, Mr. Ibrahim said: “An internal exercise has been initiated by the Ministry to develop a comprehensive long-term national civil aviation policy with a perspective of around 10 to 15 years covering all sectors such as infrastructure development, air safety, air traffic management etc. This will be finalized within 3 months.”

This 3-months wait has now turned into 20-years CAP drafting exercise that has panned over successive regimes of United Front (1996-March98), National Democratic Alliance-I (NDA-I March1998-April2014 - 2 tenures), United Progressive Alliance (UPA May2009-May2014 -2 tenures) and the present Modi-led NDA Government.

Does it take 20 years spanning over six regimes to draft a policy? What caused the delay: a) machinations of crony capitalists or b) the convoluted policy formulations system for which India is known globally?

Modi Regime, which came to power on promise of speedy governance & transparency, should clear the air on these murky issues. It can do so easily by issuing a comparative table on key elements that have been altered in the policy drafts. The comparison should also explain why certain component of the policy was dropped or modified in the drafting marathon. 

The Government also ought to explain why it has taken more than one-and-half years and two drafts to finalize CAP? Such instances show that NDA has conveniently fitted in the policy paralysis for which it banged UPA before coming to power.

Mr. Raju should ask his ministry to compute the cost of foregone opportunity to ramp up growth, employment & wealth due to delay.  Such a study is needed to draw lessons and cut short similar delays in formulation of policies, regulations and laws in several other sectors.

He should also muster courage to suggest to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to release a white paper on politics and red-tapism in policy-making –From Nehru to Modi days. The Performance Management Division of Cabinet Secretariat can prepare the proposed, innovative paper.   

The collation of information available in bits and parts in public domain on CAP gives an idea of maze through which many policies have to traverse through for years.

After Mr. Gujral’s de facto order, Ministry of Civil Aviation (MOCA) drafted CAP. It was first discussed threadbare by committee of secretaries (COS) in November 1997 and again in March 1988. In February 1999, Civil Aviation Secretary (CAS) “desired to make the draft more brief and issue-specific.”

As put by an official document, “the draft was slightly modified and circulated among the officials of our Ministry on 8.2.1999.” In the meeting chaired by CAS on 2nd July 1999, it was decided that Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and all joint secretaries in the department would go through concerned chapters and re-draft CAP. This was followed by a reminder in September to “expedite” re-drafting exercise.

In its first tenure, NDA stated that CAP was being prepared in consultation with other ministries. After it returned to power in October 1999, NDA continued with drafting exercise. In February 2000, it put in public domain draft CAP for seeking comments of stakeholders. Some behind-the-scene lobbying led Vajpayee Government to delay finalization of CAP.

In reply to a question in Lok Sabha in July 2003, it disclosed that it has constituted a five-member Committee in the same month “to prepare a roadmap for the civil aviation sector that will provide the basis for a New National Civil Aviation Policy.”

Immediately after coming to power in May 2004, UPA started stating that new CAP was on the anvil. In June 2007, UPA Cabinet could not reconcile differences among its members on finalized draft CAP. It thus decided to refer the draft CAP to a group of ministers (GOM). Information about what GOM decided about CAP is hard to come by.

In July 2009, the Civil Aviation Minister, Praful Patel, virtually questioned the relevance of an integrated CAP. Replying to a question in Rajya Sabha, Mr. Patel claimed: “Most of the issues which are inter-alia as under set forth in the proposed National Civil Aviation Policy have already been implemented.” He added: “National Civil Aviation Policy is on fast track.”

Mr. Patel’s contention is ridiculous as there are several missing links in the existing policy and regulatory framework that have been discussed by experts over the years.

UPA sprang a surprise in December 2011by disclosing that draft CAP has been entrusted to a committee chaired by CAS to “provide roadmap for development” of the sector. 

In January 2012, MOCA invited views from all stakeholders on proposed CAP.

Answering a question in Rajya Sabha in March 2013, the Government stated that CAS-chaired panel decided that a consultative paper should be prepared for seeking comments of all stakeholders.

It adds: “Based on the comments received, a White paper on New Civil Aviation Policy has been prepared. Five Sub Group have been formed to finalize the suggestions in the White Paper before finalizing the National Civil Aviation Policy.”

In August 2013, UPA took a U-turn on the need for CAP while answering a question in Rajya Sabha that reads as: “(a) whether there is a need to formulate a comprehensive Civil Aviation Policy keeping in view the role played by the sector in promoting tourism; (b) if so, the details thereof; and (c) the steps taken by Government in this regard?

Civil Aviation Minister K.C. Venugopal replied: (a) to (c): All key components of strategy, policy and plans for future growth of Civil Aviation Sector in India have been formulated and duly reflected in the 12th Five Year Plan Document (2012-17).

The Minister gave an identical reply to a similar three-part question in Lok Sabha two days later, i.e., 29th August 2013.

After Modi Government came to power at end-May 2014, Draft CAP got a fresh lease of life.

The Government must explain why the revised draft CAP is silent on Civil Aviation Act (CAA), which was mooted as unified, single law to regulate the sector in place of multiple, archaic laws. CAA figured in the 1997 and 2000 policy drafts.

Modi Government should also disclose why the proposal to set up an autonomous, single Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has been dropped the revised draft. As put by 2000 draft, “The basic objectives of setting up of the Authority (CAA) will be to ensure aviation safety, security and effective regulation of air transport in the country in the liberalised environment.”

It added: “A comprehensive Indian Aviation Law will be framed to replace the existing Acts relating to aviation and security which will be in tune with the present day civil aviation scenario, and would also put the proposed CAA in place.” 

UPA had in fact introduced CAA bill in Lok Sabha in 2013. It, however, lapsed after the dissolution of 15th Lok Sabha.

A vital point that is missing in all policy drafts is the need to consciously develop and expand civil aviation as means for strengthening national security.

It is here pertinent to recall what a Rajya Sabha member stated way back in May 1955 while participating in a discussion on annual report of Indian Airlines.Rajendra Pratap Sinha stated: “we should develop our civil aviation at any cost, not only for service at peacetimes, but also as it is required as a second line of defence.”

 

Published by taxindiaonline.com on 9th November 2015

http://www.taxindiaonline.com/RC2/inside2.php3?filename=bnews_detail.php3&newsid=25173

 

 

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