Parliament on Tuesday passed a bill that seeks to improve India’s aviation safety ratings and provide statutory status to regulatory institutions, including the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri today said the government will not compromise on air safety and asserted that India’s air safety record had improved tremendously after the Modi government took over.

The Aircraft (Amendment) Bill, 2020, which provides for statutory backing to the DGCA, the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) and the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB), was passed by a voice vote in Rajya Sabha.

The bill that was passed in Lok Sabha on 17 March which amends the Aircraft Act, 1934 also entails to increase the fine for violations from Rs 10 lakh to Rs 1 crore. The last revision was made in 2007 from Rs 1,000-2000 to Rs 10 lakh.

Puri said the Lifeline Udan service carried 1,000 tonnes of essential medical supplies within the country, brought 1,500 tonnes from abroad, and transported 30 tonnes to other countries.

It was wrong to suggest that the airline charged exorbitant fares. In fact, other airlines charged several times more than Air India, he said.

The amendments were necessary as tremendous growth in civil aviation has thrown many challenges such as saturated airport capacity, lack of trained manpower, limited manpower capabilities, he said, adding these are happy challenges.

Puri said the bill seeks to insert a new definition for three regulatory bodies DGCA, BCAS and AAIB.

The proposed amendments follow the 2012 and the 2015 audit by the International Civil Aviation Organisation that had indicated the need to give statutory recognition to these agencies, he said.

No change has been proposed in terms of imprisonment that is at two years in most cases, he said.

DGCA, BCAS and AAIB were constituted under executive powers of the government.

Referring to members’ fears over the sale of Air India, he said, the choice was between privatization and closure, as the airline had a debt of Rs 16,000 crores. The Government was confident that the airline would be handed over to a new owner in a running condition so that the airline and its flag keep flying, he said.

Replying to remarks made by Congress’ K C Venugopal, the Minister said he was worried about privatization of six airports but forgot that two of India’s largest airports Mumbai and Delhi were privatized during the Congress-led regime in 2006.

Since the privatisation of Mumbai and Delhi airports, the Airports Authority of India has received Rs 29,000 crore which has been utilised to develop airport infrastructure in the country elsewhere. The vast earning was also the reason Budget for the Civil Aviation sector had declined.

Puri said Mumbai and Delhi handled 33 per cent of Indian passenger traffic and earnings, while the six airports awarded in 2018 accounted for just nine per cent Indian passenger traffic.

On the other hand, entities from all over the world participated in the bidding for six airports in 2018, he said. He said the government in the last three years has recruited 1,000 air traffic controllers as against requirement of 3,500 such officials.

Citing examples of the upcoming Jewar airport in Uttar Pradesh, he said a new entity came out as winner as the entire process has been opened up.

On the Vande Bharat Mission, Puri said close to 16 lakh citizens who were stranded abroad, were flown back to India in the largest, most comprehensive evacuation, repatriation in the history.

G VL Narasimha Rao of BJP said the real crony capitalism was seen during the UPA regime-the way 2G and coal licences were given. Trinamul Congress’ Dinesh Trivedi said while it was a wonderful job done to bring Indians from abroad, migrant workers were not properly treated.

RJD’s Manoj Kumar Jha said there was a massive cut in AI employees’ salaries.