A row erupted on Thursday over West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s IndiGo flight being made to hover over Kolkata after the plane was reportedly low on fuel and it echoed in Parliament where TMC alleged threat to her life while the Centre asserted no one was in danger. Aviation regulator DGCA ordered an inquiry into the incidents of as many as three flights, including one carrying Banerjee, reporting low fuel on Wednesday at the same time.
TMC vice-president Mukul Roy alleged that a conspiracy was hatched to eliminate Banerjee and dashed off a letter to Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju, demanding a thorough inquiry by his ministry to unearth the truth. IndiGo on its part said its flight carrying the Trinamool Congress supremo was delayed due to congestion over Kolkata before making a normal landing and had adequate fuel.
In a statement, IndiGo said the flight 6E 342 with 174 passengers on board made a “normal landing” at Kolkata airport and that its captain did not declare a fuel priority or an emergency, though there was some misunderstanding between the Air Traffic Controller and the pilot. According to IndiGo, the misinterpretation of information by ATC controller, led the ATC to instruct fire engines and ambulances to be stationed at the airport.
TMC raised the issue in both Houses of Parliament alleging that Banerjee’s flight was made to hover over Kolkata airport on Wednesday evening for about half an hour despite the pilot reporting that the plane was low on fuel. The government vehemently denied any design saying just when West Bengal Chief Minister’s Patna-Kolkata Indigo flight reported low on fuel, two other flights of Air India and SpiceJet also called in with the same problem.
Banerjee’s flight hovered over Kolkata airport for only 13 minutes and it was ensured that the aircraft landed in a safe and orderly manner, Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha were informed by Raju and his deputy Jayant Sinha respectively. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) ordered an inquiry to find out how three flights at the same time could fly low on fuel into Kolkata when the norms mandate them to carry enough fuel to enable hovering for 30-40 minutes as well as to carry it to the nearest diversion airport, which in this case was Bhubaneshwar.
Alleging a threat to the life of Banerjee, who is at the forefront of anti-demonetisation campaign, TMC leader in Lok Sabha Sudip Bandopadhyay said the government should rise to the occasion and find out whether there was a conspiracy. Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of Congress in Lok Sabha, said that Banerjee has been travelling to various parts of the country protesting against government’s move to ban 500 and 1000 rupee notes causing hardships to common people.
“Her life is in danger and ATC should have allowed her flight to land first. The VVIP flight should have been allowed to land in priority,” he said. Raju said it is incorrect to say that the flight was hovering over Kolkata for 30-40 minutes. “The flight was hovering for only 13 minutes. The DGCA has ordered an inquiry how all the three flights were flying low fuel.”
In the Rajya Sabha, Sinha said, “At no point was anybody’s life at risk or danger. All safety procedures were fully followed. Today it is one opposition leader… this opposition leader is at the forefront (of anti-demonetisation campaign),” TMC leader Derek O’Brien said, adding questions are being raised if it is a conspiracy to eliminate opposition leaders.