‘UDAN’ fails to take-off in Punjab; Incurs ₹3.45-cr losses to state
The scheme failed to take-off in Ludhiana, Pathankot, Adampur (Jalandhar) and Bathinda airports, while most of these stations as per officials have a vast scope for air traffic.
‘Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik’ (UDAN) scheme of the Central government, which has helped in improving air connectivity to many tier-2 and tier-3 cities across the country with affordable airfares, has not just been a non-starter in Punjab but also cost the state exchequer dearly.
Of the 5 planned stations across the state, where UDAN was scheduled to kickstart, after its initiation by the Union aviation ministry in 2016, only Amritsar witnessed implementation of this scheme but air traffic operations at this airport under the scheme is no more operational.
The scheme has failed to take-off in Ludhiana, Pathankot, Adampur (Jalandhar) and Bathinda airports, while most of these stations, as per aviation experts, have a vast scope for air traffic.
It may be mentioned that UDAN scheme was aimed at making the domestic flights available for the local population and the price of tickets were capped at the economical rate so that the maximum number of people can travel by the air.
The Government of India and Punjab government entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for this scheme, and as per agreement there was provision of providing Viability Gap Funding (VGF), which was to be provided by the GOI and Punjab government in ratio of 80% and 20% respectively. This VGF was to be provided for a period of 3 years from the date of operation of flight, on basis of a formula to the selected airlines who had shown the willingness to operate.
Due to non-operational flights, Punjab has so far incurred almost ₹4 crore losses as part of VGF. Even the audit department has also put an objection over this expenditure to the Punjab Aviation Department.
“During the checking of records of Civil Aviation, Punjab, it was seen that an amount of ₹3.45 crore was paid to Air India as 20% share of the state on account of VGF. However, it was seen that out of five domestic airports, no flights are operational at any airport at present”, remarked the audit objection. It further stated that “VGF was paid for initial three years and flights stopped after the VGF funding. This has resulted in a loss of ₹3.45 crore as there is no flight operational under UDAN defeating the very purpose of scheme”.
Officers of the aviation department, wishing anonymity, said that besides the VGF funding, the Punjab government is also paying heavily for the arrangement of CISF security personnel in these airports. Initially, politicians were keen to start flights to get political benefits, but there was no foolproof planning. The Pathankot and Ludhiana stations have immense scope under the UDAN scheme, but lack of seriousness has proved to be a roadblock, the officials added.
When contacted, Rahul Bhandari, Principal Secretary, Civil Aviation Department said that he has recently joined the department and was not aware of the issue. “I will check into it and also will ensure more domestic flights as it is a need of the hour,” he said.