By Dr. Gyan Pathak
Civil Aviation sector in India remains a victim of low budgetary allocation as well as improper plans and implementation by the Narendra Modi led government at the Centre that claims about its good governance and performance.
It has been revealed in an assessment of the department related Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture the report of which was recently tabled in the parliament this week.
Assessment of Demand for Grants (2023-24) and Annual Plan (2022-23) reveals that the projected demand of the Ministry for Budget Estimate (BE) 2023-24 was Rs 3,532.13 crore which was reduced by the Ministry of Finance to Rs 3,113.36 crore. The reduction of Rs 418.77 crore made the budget allocation for 2023-24 to 66.75 per cent lower than even Revised Estimate (RE) 2022-23. Moreover, the Ministry of Finance did not state any reason for the reduction.
The Committee has noted that the allocation for 2023-24 was the lowest in the last five years, barring 2022-23 when the allocation was Rs 10,667 crore. It was Rs 6,602.86 crore in 2018-19, but now it stands at merely Rs 3,113.36 crore. The committee opined that these decreasing allocations have been made despite the increasing trend of inflation in the country, which implies that the effective allocations are ever lower. The committee has recommended that the government allocate more funds to enable the Ministry of Civil Aviation to achieve its set targets and achieve the aim of the Indian Civil Aviation Industry.
Asset creation in the Civil Aviation Sector has been suffering due to government’s policies. The Committee notes that a major part of the B.E. allocation in the financial years 2021-22, 2022-23 and 2023-24 consists of the budgetary allocation towards the disinvestment of Air India, which effectively did not create any asset for the Civil Aviation Sector in the longrun. The Committee hopes that the trend would be reversed with the completion process of the disinvestment of Air India and more focus would be laid towards asset creation in the Civil Aviation Sector.
Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik (RCS-UDAN) is a regional connectivity scheme intended to enable common people to fly. The committee notes that the budget allocation for 2022-23 was more than doubled from Rs 600 crore to Rs 1,244.07 crore, but there has been an underutilisation of funds, wherein an amount of Rs 578.98 crore accounting to 53.67 per cent of the allocated RE could be untilised out of a total RE Rs 1,078.81 crore. The committee felt that the Ministry might not be able to fully utilize the allocated funds.
The Committee hopes that the Ministry would be able to utilize the funds allocated for 2023-24 to the maximum extent possible, by removing the shortcoming and obstacles observed earlier through better planning. The need for better planning in the RCS is the need of the hour. The Committee has also highlighted the fact that a major allocation for the Ministry is towards AIAHL for disinvestment of Air India, which is not creating any asset for the nation. Hence, the allocation for RCS assumes more significance as it creates permanent assets for the nation and adds to its GDP.
A fluctuation in the number of RCS passengers has also been noted who have benefitted for the UDAN Scheme. While the number of RCS passengers rose from 3 lakh in 2017-18 to 31 lakh in 2019-20, it dipped to 15 lakh in 2020-21, and rose to 33 lakh in 2021-22, and fell back to 20 lakh as on January 31, 2023. Ministry has not given any answer to this phenomenon.
The Committee notes that as per the Output Outcome Monitoring Framework for 2022-23 (till December 31, 2022), the Ministry has not been able to achieve the targets in most cases, with achievements in the range of 40 per cent to 67 per cent only. The Committee also notes the low performance of the Ministry on almost all constituents of the RCS-UDAN Scheme, except one.
The Committee is also not satisfied with the schemes for North East Regions and hence recommended a comprehensive scheme. There is also a plan under Krishi Udaan Scheme to connect not only North East Regions but also Hilly Airports, Airports in Tribal Areas and Islands besides new airports. Ministry has a plant to start 58 such airports. Modi government has been beating its drum that how the government was trying to provide air transport to farmers to enable them to transport their agriculture produce to cities before they perished. However, the irony is that the scheme has only a nominal allocation of only Rs 0.01 crore for this scheme, both at RE 2022-23 and BE 2023-24.
The Committee has noted this anomaly and opined that India’s economy is largely based on Agriculture and promoting the Krishi Udaan Scheme would help in transporting agricultural produce in large quantities over long distances economically, which will bring prosperity for the farmers and add to our economy. The Committee also feels that in the remote regions of the North East, where the economy is primarily based on horticulture, agriculture, and tea cultivation, air connectivity can provide proper markets for the sale of these products.
It was also noted that the intention of the Ministry is not translated into providing budgetary support to the Krishi Udaan Scheme. It seems, the Committee said, that no planning has been done to implement the scheme effectively and sincerely.
The parliamentary committee was also not happy with the disinvestment of Air India, on several counts. It wanted to know India’s total expenditure before its disinvestment. It has also doubt in the very disinvestment process and wants to know the final picture. It noted that Government had provided financial assistance amounting Rs 64,026.40 crore during the disinvestment in the form of equity to AIAHL, but it received only a cash component of Rs 2,700 crore and also retained a debt of Rs 15,300 crore. The committee wanted to know the details of the actual revenue the government has generated by disinvestment of Air India, since the financial support given was nothing but public money. Air India was valued by the highest bidder at only Rs 18,000 crore, and therefore the committee wanted to know the procedure to arrive at this value. (IPA Service)