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May 29, 2014 at 09:02pm IST

Robert Vadra may lose the privilege of not being frisked at airports

New Delhi: The Central government may re-look into Congress President Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra's security exemptions at airports. The new Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju Pusapati hinted the same on Thursday.

Pusapati said, "Security should be meaningful and not ornamental. It will depend on whether the Home Ministry feels there is a threat perception, and I am not talking about Vadra, we'll have to see."

Vadra currently is in the VIP list and enjoys the privilege of going unchecked at airports. The change of guard at the Centre, however, can change the privileges he used to get as Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law.

Earlier, various passenger bodies had also objected to Vadra being exempted from frisking at airports. RITs too had been filed in this regard.

The newly sworn-in Minister added that there would be no hasty decision on the privatisation of Air India. He said that all issues will be examined and the new government is "not closed to any idea".

"There are private airlines and there is a public sector company. Public sector does have a place and a lot of countries have public sector companies. As of now, we are trying to formulate our views," Pusapati told his maiden press conference, hours after taking charge of office.

"I am not closed to any idea," he said when repeatedly asked whether he would favour privatisation of the state-run airline.

Later, he also said, "The state-run companies in several countries do function rather well. Somehow for us, it has not happened that way but we have to examine all aspects."

"Air India is a public sector undertaking. It has its pluses and minuses. How to develop it, we have to look into. We would neither hurry into things nor drag our feet," he added.

Asked whether the new dispensation would probe all decisions taken by the previous UPA-II government, Pusapati said, "There is no point in dissecting or doing a post-mortem. We have to first formulate our own thinking about the issues."

However, the Minister also pointed out that the previous government had "made a lot of commitments" in a variety of areas. "If anyone has to honour all those commitments, then there should have been no change in the government," he said.

He said several airlines were under financial stress, but the country needs more airlines. "Let us see if anything the government can do to correct this situation. We have to be of use to them. We are open to suggestions from all quarters."

Soon after taking over, he said, "We will strive to create a level-playing field for all the players and make the aviation sector more people-oriented."

Asked about loss-making airports run by Airports Authority of India (AAI), 63-year-old Pusapati said, "Profitability is one angle, connectivity is another. We will take a balanced view."

Terming the civil aviation sector as major infrastructure, he said though there were several important issues concerning the sector, safety and improving connectivity were among the top-most priorities.

After he stressed that he would bring about transparency in the functioning of the ministry and the decision-making processes, he was asked whether he would look into charges of corruption in various departments during the previous government's tenure.

"At the general level, we can say, we won't protect anyone, neither will we persecute anyone. Our direction will be to encourage efficiency and honesty. As they say, everyone is honest till there is an opportunity to be dishonest," he replied.

On privatisation of airports including those at Kolkata and Chennai, Pusapati, a senior TDP leader, said he would take a call only after examining all related issues.

Regarding high taxation on jet fuel, he said, "We will consult the Finance Ministry if necessary."

When pointed out that US Federal Aviation Administration has downgraded India's safety ranking, the Minister said, "We are trying to correct those things (the issues raised by FAA) and restore the status (Category-I or the topmost ranking)."

He parried questions on issues like the rule to allow Indian carriers to fly abroad and FDI cap of 49 per cent in the aviation sector, saying the new ministry would examine them before taking any call.

To questions on bilateral air services agreements, especially with Gulf nations, and the role of foreign players in the aviation sector, he said, "We have to be of use to them without being detrimental to our interests."

Pusapati was given detailed presentations on various aspects of the sector by senior officials of the Ministry. He also held preliminary discussions with Civil Aviation Secretary Ashok Lavasa, Air India CMD Rohit Nandan, Director General Civil Aviation Prabhat Kumar and Airports Economic Regulatory Authority chairman Yashwant Bhave.

(With inputs from PTI)