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Delhi’s international airport: a daily trauma for passengers


New Delhi : Even as the expansion and upgrade of the Indira Gandhi International Airport (IGIA) here continues at an agonisingly slow pace, several thousand overseas travellers, including tourists, continue to suffer serpentine queues, a squalid environment and unfriendly immigration officials, every day.

And, as if this was not frustrating enough at India’s second busiest airport after Mumbai, the toilets continue to stink, getting trolleys is like a game of chance and there is this constant fear that the under-renovation ceiling may fall on your head.

“The whole process of getting past immigration and clearing the security check is maddening. In fact, even a mere entry into the airport took me close to two hours,” said Ranjay Singh, an executive with a multinational.

“Luckily, I was tipped off about this. Otherwise I would have missed the flight and been unable to attend an important conference in Chicago, which was extremely important for my career,” Singh told IANS.

Last week, to compound travellers’ woes, poorly manned immigration counters created such passenger congestion that women collapsed out of fatigue and children began crying as outbound passengers had to stand in unheard of queues for hours to reach boarding gates.

“Our flights are getting delayed owing to congestion in the terminals,” said a spokesperson for Air India, adding that they were having to bear the brunt of passenger ire because of lack of proper infrastructure at the airport.

“Passengers report late. So, we cannot close the counters on time. Then there is this frequent breakdown of conveyor belts. As a result, we are not able to load the baggage on time. And all this is causing further delay.”

“We can only provide the infrastructure. Immigration is not in our hands,” said an official of the Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) – the lead company of the consortium that was handed over the airport some two years ago for upgrade.

“Immigration counters are manned by the home ministry, the security is with the government agencies and the customs department is with the finance ministry. We have no say in these matters,” the official told IANS, washing his hands off delays at a counter manned by insensitive government officials.

After inspecting the airport 15 days ago, civil aviation ministry officials had found a host of lacunae that was leading to the chaos at both the domestic and international terminals and had suggested immediate remedial measures.

This after the airport – which collectively handles 20.44 million passengers annually – was curiously awarded the coveted ISO:9001 certificate for quality on Oct 11 last year.

“We have asked DIAL officials to take appropriate measures. But the relief to passengers will come when the renovation and construction work is completed,” said K.N. Srivastava, joint secretary with the civil aviation ministry.

But nothing much seems to have happened since then, as the ongoing facelift has shrunk the airport further – resulting in an inability to increase immigration counters and security check points and fewer gates for entry.

The ambience, too, is not something passengers like to remember – some have even had epileptic fits and fainted in the sheer effort required to keep themselves on the feet in the midst of jostling crowds.

The strike called by the Airports Authority of India (AAI) on Thursday and Friday turned the international and the domestic terminals into a garbage dump. Passengers were greeted with empty coffee cups, leftover food and dust. Not to mention the messy toilets and garbage, both inside and outside the airport.

The mandate for the modernisation and upgrade of the airport was handed over to the consortium led by Hyderabad-based infrastructure major GMR group, which has a share of a little over 50 percent. AAI, which was managing the airport earlier, has a 26 percent interest, Fraport of Germany another 10 percent and Eraman Malaysia has a 10-percent stake while the remaining is with the India Development Fund.

The main pact – called the operation, management and development agreement – was signed on April 4, 2006, and the airport was handed over to the joint venture on May 3.