The abrupt transfer of E K Bharat Bhushan, the director-general of civil aviation (DGCA), allegedly at the behest of civil aviation minister Ajit Singh, has once again exposed the lack of coordination within the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government.
Singh, who was given the portfolio after his Rashtriya Lok Dal extended support to the UPA government in December 2011– the party has in the past allied with both the Samajwadi Party and the BJP – has virtually snubbed the appointments committee of the cabinet (ACC), which had given a year's extension to Bhushan just a week earlier.
There are allegations that Bhushan was ousted from the regulator's post at the behest of Kingfisher Airlines; the DGCA was believed to have issued a letter terminating the airline's licence for not paying dues to its employees for several months.
The murky goings-on in the civil aviation ministry took another strange twist when former civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi – who is the overseas affairs minister – also came out in support of Bhushan. ''He was one of the finest officers with a very strong faith and belief in norms,'' said Ravi, when asked about Bhushan's sacking. ''When I was civil aviation minister he had taken all efforts to check corrupt practices. It is a surprise to me that he has been removed.''
Bhushan, an IAS officer, has now been posted as additional secretary in the steel ministry. He will be succeeded by Arun Mishra, another IAS officer, by the end of July. Prashant Sukul, a joint secretary in the civil aviation ministry, has temporarily taken over as the regulator.
The arbitrary manner in which the DGCA is appointed and then shunted out has been criticised by many. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation (Capa) has strongly condemned the move. ''Safety is a matter in which politics has no place,'' said a Capa spokesman. ''If India is to achieve its safety objectives, technical regulation, the aviation sector must be independent, transparent and skilled. There must be a common purpose between the ministry and the DGCA, which has not always been the case, creating an environment which facilitates collaboration with industry.''
According to the centre, the ambit of the DGCA should be redefined to focus solely on safety and it should be unburdened from the current broad range of responsibilities that also encompass commercial matters. The DGCA should also be a technocrat and not a bureaucrat.
''Tenures of three to five years will provide greater stability rather than the more frequent turnover that we have seen in recent times,'' he added. ''In several instances, including Mr. Bhushan, the director general held the position as an additional charge limiting the attention which they could provide to the role.''