Plot claimed behind delay in Mamata's flight landing; government denies, orders probe
New Delhi/Kolkata: Raising in Parliament the issue of alleged safety lapse in an aircraft ferrying West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, the Trinamool Congress on Thursday saw a conspiracy in it, but both government and airline authorities refuted the claim.
However, aviation regulator - the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) - has ordered a probe into the matter.
The Trinamool raised the issue in both Houses of Parliament, alleging that Banerjee's flight from Patna was made to hover over Kolkata airport on Wednesday evening for about 30 minutes despite the pilot reporting that the plane was running low on fuel.
"The pilot sought landing, saying he was short of fuel. But the flight was put on hold. It was made to hover for a considerable time.
"There was not only the Chief Minister, but also hundreds of passengers onboard," Trinamool MP Derek O'Brien said as soon as the Upper House met at 11 a.m.
"The question is: is there more to it than meets the eye? Is it a coincidence? ...if a state's Chief Minister is under so much pressure, what will happen to normal people," wondered O'Brien, as opposition members, irrespective of party affiliation, supported him.
When Deputy Chairman P.J. Kurien asked the Trinamool member to not level any allegations, Leader of Opposition and Congress veteran Ghulam Nabi Azad intervened to say that O'Brien is not making any allegations.
"He is not making any allegations. If this can happen to one Chief Minister, it can happen to others as well," Azad said.
Other opposition members, including Samajwadi Party's Ram Gopal Yadav, Bahujan Samaj Party's Mayawati, Janata Dal United's Sharad Yadav, Rashtriya Janata Dal's Prem Chand Gupta, Communist Party of India-Marxist's T.K. Rangarajan, Trichuri Shiva of AIADMK and Rajiv Shukla of the Congress demanded a thorough inquiry into the matter and tabling of the report in the House.
The government vehemently denied the claims in both Houses.
Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapati Raju asserted that the flight hovered only for about 13 minutes before landing at the Kolkata airport, as he informed the Lok Sabha that a probe by the DGCA has been ordered into the matter.
While replying to Trinamool's assertions in Rajya Sabha, Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said as per the "facts", all laid down procedures and regulations were followed by the air traffic controller (ATC).
"The said aircraft hovered for 13 minutes. As per the regulations, an aircraft must have sufficient fuel for hovering for 30-40 minutes after reaching its destination, or to reach the nearest diversionary airport," Sinha said.
The minister assured the upper House that a probe will be conducted and its report tabled.
Budget passenger carrier IndiGo also rebutted the allegations asserting its flight -- 6E 342 -- made a normal landing at the Kolkata airport on Wednesday night and the fuel on arrival was more than the required minimum diversion fuel.
"The flight was kept on hold for landing due to air traffic congestion at Kolkata. The pilot had advised the ATC that he has eight minutes of extra holding fuel over Kolkata (destination) before commencing diversion to the planned alternate," the airline said in a statement.
"However, this information was misunderstood by the ATC, who assumed that the aircraft had only eight minutes of total fuel left. The misinterpretation of the information by ATC controller led ATC to instruct fire engines and ambulances to be stationed at the Kolkata airport."
"We would like to clarify that IndiGo Captain at no stage declared a fuel priority or an emergency and there has been no violation or breach of any regulatory requirement in the above mentioned scenario," the statement added.
While airport officials said such developments are normal and everyday affair in aviation, the Trinamool alleged a conspiracy.
"As soon as the plane landed, we came to know that a red alert was sounded at the airport by the authorities. All regular work was suspended at that time and fire tenders and ambulance were put on standby. This means the authorities were anticipating the plane to crash," Trinamool Vice President Mukul Roy said in Kolkata.
Similar assertions were made by Bengal Urban Development Minister Firhad Hakim, who accompanied Banerjee.
"When the plane landed, we saw fire tenders positioned along the runway. Were they expecting the plane to crash? It is very evident that a disaster was waiting to happen. She (Banerjee) has been in the forefront of leading people's agitation. There are vested interests who want to silence her," said Hakim.