Congress MP accuses ‘hidden forces’ of working against Calicut Airport


Saudi Gazette

M.K. Raghavan, member of Indian parliament representing Calicut, accused some ‘hidden forces’ of working against the Calicut International Airport, a major aviation hub in the southern Indian state of Kerala. Addressing a press conference recently here, Raghavan, a leader of the Indian National Congress party, shared with media persons the bitter struggle that was waged to restore the operation of wide bodied aircraft from the airport, which is being used by around two million Keralites working in the Gulf states.

The airport, which was the seventh busiest airport in India in terms of passenger traffic and is often touted as the gateway to Kerala’s Malabar region, was closed for wide-bodied aircraft since May 2015 following the re-carpeting of the runway. Though the airport was opened for round-the-clock service by the end of 2016, services of large aircraft remained suspended, affecting mainly over 500,000 Indians working in the western region of Saudi Arabia.

“I had held discussions with the top officials of the Indian Civil Aviation Ministry about this issue besides raising it in the Indian parliament in addition to going on strike several times,” he said while noting that the efforts to restore the operation of wide-body aircraft met with bottlenecks due to the intervention of some hidden forces.

“These forces are apparently working to serve the interests of the nearest private airports at the expense of the Calicut airport, which is under the public sector,” he said, while thanking his fellow deputies of parliament and state assembly as well as political parties and NGOs for their support in the struggle to restore operation of wide-bodied aircraft after a hiatus of three years.

Raghavan said that Air India, the national flag carrier, is expected to resume operation of direct service to Jeddah soon. “We have held series of talks with the Air India officials and have got assurance in this regard,” he said.

Raghavan criticized the Kerala government for its step-motherly attitude to Calicut airport by giving aircraft fuel tax relief to the newly commissioned nearby Kannur airport. “The fuel tax has been reduced from 28 percent to one percent for flights operating from Kannur airport while there is no reduction for Calicut and this has forced cancelation of many domestic services operating from Calicut,” he said.

The Congress leader hoped that the long awaited ‘proxy voting’ for expatriates would be cleared by the parliament in the coming budget session. The Lok Sabha has already passed the bill and it would come up for voting in Rajya Sabha, the upper house, in the coming session,” he said, adding that the government is bound to move the bill following a directive of the Supreme Court.

He also called for optimum utilization of the expatriate welfare fund for the benefit of the needy expatriates. This issue was cropped up during his meeting with Indian Consul General Mohammed Noor Rahman Sheikh, he said. Raghavan’s talks with Sheikh figured many issues concerning the Indian expatriates, especially meeting the cost of repatriation of dead bodies.

Sheikh briefed the parliament member on the measures taken by the consulate to ensure the welfare of Indian nationals and addressing various issues faced by them.

The deputy also met Abdul Aziz Al-Mayaf, a senior official of the Saudi Arabian Airlines. He congratulated Saudia for restarting flights between Jeddah and Calicut after a hiatus of three years. He urged the airline to increase the number of flights as well as to reduce the ticket charges. Al-Mayaf presented memento of Saudia to Raghavan. Eminent media figure Khaled Almaeena was among those who attended the meeting.

Those who attended the meeting included Advocate K. Praveen Kumar, secretary of Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee, Advocate P.M. Niyas, councilor of Calicut corporation, P.M. Najeeb, president of the Saudi National Committee of Overseas Indian Cultural Congress (OICC), K.T.A Muneer, president of OICC western region committee, Rasheed Kolathara, secretary of OICC global committee, Sakeer Hussain Edavanna, general secretary of OICC western region committee, Iqbal Pokkunnu and Abdurahman Ambalappalli.