In a surprise late evening development on Thursday, VP Agarwal was removed from the chairmanship of Airports Authority of India as the Central Vigilance Commission did not clear his name for an extension.
Agarwal has been replaced by the Alok Sinha, joint secretary, ministry of civil aviation, who has been given additional charge of the post.
AAI is in the middle of a major investment programme to develop 50 low-cost airports in the country and also privatise running of six major airports, including Chennai, Kolkata, Lucknow and Ahmedabad. A top aviation ministry official confirmed that Agarwal did not get a vigilance clearance. “Agarwal’s candidature was rejected by the vigilance department (CVC). We had recommended Alok Sinha’s name for additional charge and the approval for his name came yesterday.” Agarwal has already served a five-year term as chairman of AAI.
Agency reports claimed Agarwal had to go because he had objected to the privatisation but did not offer any quote from him. Efforts made by The Indian Express to reach his cell number and emails remained un-answered. A ministry official said there is no basis to claim that Agarwal had to go because of his opposition to the privatisation projects. The vigilance case against Agarwal is about his permission to increase the floor space index for hotels near the Sahar Airport area made without the consent of Mumbai International Airport Ltd. The approval was apparently later added in the file.
The government had in September last year decided to allow private parties to pick up 100 per cent equity stake in operation and management of the six airports through the public-private partnership (PPP) mode. The privatisation move has been opposed by AAI unions, alleging that it would reduce the already shrinking revenue of AAI. A substantial 60 per cent of the Rs 4,500 crore revenue of AAI comes from Air Traffic Control operations and the unions fear that taking away six more airports will make it loss-making.
A parliamentary panel, led by CPI(M) leader Sitaram Yechury, had also opposed the privatisation of airports.