Free Press Journal

Parliament erupts over Mamata flight row; DGCA orders probe


TMC chief alleges threat to her life while Centre asserts that no one was in danger

New Delhi : Trinamool Congress members, backed by the entire Opposition including the rival CPI-M, on Thursday rocked both the Houses of Parliament over the life of their leader and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee put to danger previous evening by delaying landing of a service flight at the Kolkata airport despite running short of fuel.

The issue was raised in the Rajya Sabha by Trinamool’s Derek O’Brien while it was Trinamool leader Sudip Bandyopadhyay who expressed concern over a suspected conspiracy that would have killed Mamata. They were backed by the entire Opposition, joining them to demand an inquiry.

The wrangle over the issue went on for half an hour in both the Houses until Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju in the Lok Sabha and his MoS Jayant Sinha in the Rajya Sabha announced a probe by the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) into the whole episode.

Both told the two Houses that there was no conspiracy and the airport authorities did everything for safe landing of not only the Indigo flight by which Mamata was travelling from Patna to Kolkata but also two other flights of Air India and SpiceJet that also reported running short of fuel.

Raju and Sinha said it was a matter of concern how these flights did not have enough fuel when the rules mandate no takeoff unless the aircraft has fuel for 30 to 40 minutes of hovering or diversion to the nearest airport that was Bhubaneshwar in the instant case. They said the DGCA has already ordered a probe into this lapse of flying without sufficient fuel.

The Trinamool members’ concern was that Mamata’s aircraft was made to hover over the Kolkata airport for half an hour despite the pilot reporting that the plane was low on fuel and it ultimately made an emergency landing with the risk of life of Mamata and some 100 other passengers aboard.

Both the ministers said her flight had hovered for only 13 minutes and all care was taken to let the aircraft land in a safe and orderly manner. Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar told the Lok Sabha that the DGCA report will be tabled in the House, stating that the House should pray for the well-being of the West Bengal Chief Minister and all other passengers who were on the flight.

Pointing out that Mamata is at the forefront of the anti-demonetisation campaign, Bandopadhyay said the government should rise to the occasion and find out whether there was a conspiracy.

Mallikarjun Kharge, leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha, said there are obvious doubts that Banerjee travelling to various parts of the country protesting against the demonetisation was put to danger of being killed if the aircraft had crashed on running out of the fuel. He said the ATC (Air Traffic Control) should have allowed her flight to land first, giving priority to the VVIP flight.

Minister Raju, however, said it was no VVIP flight but one of the three service flights that were found flying on low fuel at the same time and none of the pilots of the tree flights sought priority landing despite being asked so by the ATC.

In the Rajya Sabha, Derek O’Brien raised the issue as soon as the House met, pointing out a mishap averted previous evening when Mamata was returning from Patna to Kolkata. About 200 km from Kolkata, the ATC informed that the flight was 8th in landing sequence when the pilot sought priority landing since he was running low on fuel.