Protestors Block Road to New Delhi Airport

Authorities deployed police and paramilitary forces in large numbers at key airports to make sure flights took off and landed on time.


Protesting workers blocked the main approach road to New Delhi's domestic airport Thursday as a strike by airport employees in India entered the second day, hitting cargo and hospitality services at airports across the country.

Authorities deployed police and paramilitary forces in large numbers at key airports to make sure flights took off and landed on time. Air force personnel were also called in to replace key workers.

Also Thursday, Calcutta airport reopened after strike workers forced the facility to suspend flights Wednesday.

Some 22,000 airport workers, mostly cleaners and administrators, are protesting outside airports to demand the government rescind its decision to privatize the New Delhi and Bombay, also known as Mumbai, airports.

While flights were on time, travelers were inconvenienced by the strikers.

In New Delhi, the road to the airport was blocked - forcing passengers to walk the last stretch to the airport, lugging their baggage. Inside the terminals, garbage piled up and the water supply to the airport bathrooms was cut off.

In Bombay, some 200 employees began a hunger strike even as riot police were deployed at both the international and domestic airports to prevent protesters from blocking approach roads.

"This is a peaceful protest ... the government must listen to us," said Nitin Jadhav, joint secretary of the Airports Authority of India Employees Forum.

Germany's Fraport and the Airports Company South Africa won tenders Tuesday to modernize and operate the two airports, both of which are struggling to cope with booming air traffic brought about by India's rapid economic growth.

Air traffic remained unaffected at other airports because air traffic controllers did not join in.

The airports are currently run by the government, and labor unions representing airport workers have angrily protested the privatization moves, fearing job cuts.

Under the contracts, however, the new airport operators must retain the current employees of state-run Airports Authority of India for at least three years.

AAI will remain responsible for security and air traffic control.

The GMR-Fraport consortium, a joint venture between India's GMR and Fraport AG that operates the Frankfurt airport, won the bid to modernize and operate the New Delhi airport, while a collaboration of India's GVK with Airports Company South Africa won the bid for the Bombay airport.

Between them, the New Delhi and Bombay airports handle almost 65 percent of India's international traffic - about 19 million passengers a year. Both airports have long been criticized for their inefficiency and lack of comfort.


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