Passengers at receiving end as AAI employees strike work

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New Delhi, Mar 12 (UNI) Filthy terminals and overflowing toilets welcomed passengers at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here as Airports Authority of India (AAI) employees began their non-cooperation stir against the government's decision to close existing airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad.

The operation at IGI, however, remained unaffected. ''The strike has not affected operations here,'' a GMR Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) spokesperson said.

Departure terminal manager, IGI, Ms Aman Saini said the nine aerobridges operated by the AAI staff were not functioning today and airlines were using manual ladders for passengers. ''Besides, the sanitation staff is also on strike,'' she added.

''Situation is normal in Delhi as operations have already been privatised. We have a backup plan and have deployed more staff for cleaning and housekeeping operations,'' GMR DIAL spokesperson said.

But filth could be seen at the arrival and departure terminals of IGI. Toilets outside and inside the terminals were overflowing, creating difficulties for the passengers.

The unavailability of aerobridges too created problems for passengers, especially with health problems, as they had to be ferried to and fro the aircraft using shuttle buses.

President of Airport Authority Employees' Union at IGI Harpal Singh admitted that passengers were facing problems. ''We are sorry for that. But we are also worried about our own future,'' he said alleging that some private operators have already started pressurising AAI employees to put in their papers. ''We want AAI employees to continue working with private operators till their retirement as per the existing agreement,'' he added.

The agitation began at midnight last night as the talks between the employees and the Ministry of Civil Aviation failed because of the government refusing to withdraw its decision to close the airports of Bangalore and Hyderabad after the new airports become operational.

The Delhi government has promulgated the Essential Services Maintenance Act (ESMA) at the Indira Gandhi International Airport since yesterday for smooth functioning. ''We do not care about ESMA...let them arrest us,'' claimed Singh.

With nearly 15,000 workers, comprising cleaning staff, handling staff and ground duty staff on strike, unions allege the move to privatise the airports at Bangalore and Hyderabad would leave many people without jobs.

The AAI manages 126 airports across the country.

UNI NAB MSJ RN1511

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