Govt tells private airlines to roll out red carpet for MPs

A controversy erupted on Wednesday after reports that the government has asked private airlines to extend special privileges such as lounge access, unlimited food and faster security clearance to members of parliament – facilities that are already extended to them by national carrier Air India.

The red carpet demanded includes a designated protocol officer to meet MPs at the airport and escort them to the lounge for free and unlimited refreshments while the airline's staff looks after the check-in and other formalities. While the government later denied issuing any such guidelines, The Times of India media group claims to have accessed the minutes of a meeting of the Directorate General of Civil Aviation held on 16 December last year – which was circulated to private airlines on 3 January – asking them to give VIP treatment to all MPs.

''It is not a formal order but even a communication from the DGCA on such a matter cannot be disregarded,'' ToI quoted an unnamed official of a low-cost carrier as saying.

The issue raised a howl of protest, even among politicians allied with the ruling United Progressive Alliance, coming at a time when there is widespread public anger at the undemocratic and almost regal privileges that MPs demand as a right.

''To be demanding special privileges for 'VIPs' in this political atmosphere takes a special kind of disconnect with reality,'' Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted.

Congress MP Sanjay Nirupam said he did not support such a move. "I think it is better to travel like the common man. Moreover, our MPs already get executive class tickets. If they want something bigger than this, I feel it is not necessary.''

In reply to a Parliament question in August last year, the government said that a 2007 protocol is ''to be followed by all concerned, including private airports and airlines'' to provide special treatment to the lawmakers.

The protocol includes reserved lounge facilities, complimentary tea, coffee and water, free access to airport buildings and designation of one officer of the airports as protocol officer to extend all facilities and courtesies to the MPs.

Following numerous complaints by MPs that private airlines were not adhering to the protocol, the civil aviation ministry has been reminding the carriers that MPs are not to be treated like the people who elected them.

Under fire, civil aviation minister Ajit Singh said no guidelines were issued by his ministry or the DGCA on the matter. He told Times Now TV channel that there was one meeting held after a complaint from an MP but nothing happened after that.

Minister of state for civil aviation, K C Venugopal said he is not aware of any special privileges to MPs, but rather tellingly quibbled by saying, "Whatever facility we have extended by Air India like airport assistance may be extended by private airlines."

Aam Admi Party, anyone?