New Delhi: Cutting across party lines, members in Rajya Sabha today asked the government to take steps and create a regulatory mechanism to ensure that Indian carriers do not charge “arbitrary” and “exorbitant” air fares from travellers.
Dissatisfied with Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju’s reply that a regulatory mechanism would mean “caps and floors” which would have implications for the ailing civil aviation sector, members of Congress, SP, CPI, CPI-M and JD-U staged a walkout. The demand was made when the House was discussing a calling attention motion on huge disparity in the air fares charged by airlines moved by Samajwadi Party member Naresh Agrawal.
Responding to the demand, Raju said the “complicated situation (facing the sector) does not have simplistic answers”, but assured members that he had understood their sentiments and would try to find ways. He, however, did not appear favourable to the idea of setting minimum and maximum limits saying there are people who are buying tickets in advance at lower rates.
Besides Agrawal, several members including leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, sought that the government should lay down the minimum and maximum fares that can be charged. They also raised issues like baggage charges and pricing of tickets during festival season. Raju said that air fares are not fixed by the government and determined by the interplay of market forces. Airlines are free to fix “reasonable” fares keeping in mind factors like cost of operations, reasonable profit and generally prevailing tariff.
While the idea was to take air travel to common man, “lots of costs go into it which reflect in tickets,” he said. On the issue of reduction in aviation fuel prices, he said that it is a highly taxed item and he has written to Chief Ministers urging them to reduce sales and other taxes on jet fuel.
Maintaining that most airlines were facing a financial crunch and not making profits, he referred to the problems faced by the sector and said “we must not throw the baby with the bathwater”. While Kingfisher Airlines has “crashed”, Spicejet too had faced turbulence, he said.