September 12th, 2015
Image Source: India Today & The Common Man Speaks
The Civil Aviation Ministry has retained VIP treatment at airports to Robert Vadra, the son-in-law of Congress President, Sonia Gandhi, yet another time. He is not new to this controversy about whether his name should be included in the list of VIPs or not. A few months earlier, there were speculations on social media that his name might be struck off from the new list. Vadra had reacted to it on Facebook saying that he was glad that this formality had been removed, as it was created without his consent, by the security agencies, only to be followed when he would be travelling with SPG (Special Protection Group). He had asserted that since he was not SPG protectee, his children and he had always travelled like ordinary passenger, clearing bags, belts, coats, etc. like they would follow at any airport, world over.
The Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS) is the nodal agency responsible for overseeing security at airports in India. It is also charged with the duty of preparing and updating the list of VIPs who are spared security checks on “the advice” of the home ministry. Another list of foreign dignitaries such as heads of state and high ranking diplomats is handed over to BCAS by the external affairs ministry.
VIP treatment includes enjoying facilities like being served tea, coffee and water free of charge at airports besides free access to the terminal building. VIPs also have reserved lounge facilities at international and domestic terminal. As enumerated by our Civil Aviation Minister, Ashok Gajapari Raju Pusapati, VIP treatment also means that the personal staff of the MPs gets airport entry pass- one in New Delhi and another for an airport nearest to their constituencies. They are not to be subjected to security checks. Their baggage is also not screened. Besides, an airport official is designated as Protocol Officer to ensure that these facilities and courtesies are extended to MPs. The protocol is to be followed by all concerned, including private airports and airlines.
Unfortunately, India has the biggest list in the world of VIPs being given such exceptional treatment. Until 1989, only the president, PM, Lok Sabha speaker, chief justice, Supreme Court judges and Governors were free of security checks. Since then, successive governments have appended the list to include even bureaucrats. At present there are 31 tiers of people who need not undergo frisking and security checks at Indian airports. That includes the President, the Vice- President, the Prime Minister and Governors, former Presidents, Deputy Prime Minister, the Chief Justice of India, Speaker of the Lok Sabha, Union cabinet ministers, Chief Ministers, former Prime Ministers, leaders of Opposition in both Houses, Bharat Ratna awardees, ambassadors, Supreme Court judges, UPSC chairperson, Chief Election Commissioner and the Comptroller and Auditor General of India, deputy chairperson of the Rajya Sabha, Deputy Speaker of the Lok Sabha, the Attorney General, Lieutenant Governors of Union territories, chiefs of staffs holding the rank of full general of equivalent rank, Chief Justices of High Courts, Chief Ministers and Deputy Chief Ministers of Union territories, and Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s son-in-law Robert Vadra. It is ironic that Varda is the only person whose name is mentioned while all the other people are included on the basis of their official positions. He became eligible for the privilege because spouses too are excused from security checks when they accompany VIPs.
The rationale of the government is that as they are eminent personalities and many are always under protection (therefore also under watch) by security forces, they have no need to (or cannot) carry firearms or explosives during travel. Is this not a convoluted logic? If the patriotism of all these people is above suspicion, then any Indian can claim to be patriotic and ask for special treatment at the airports asserting that he or she does not pose any security threats.
In fact, our Civil Aviation Minister himself had landed in soup while admitting that he possessed matches with him on the plane, after having been exempted from a check. This is hypocrisy, indeed. Who will be held responsible if any of these people or their bodyguards carry harmful substances even by mistake, not in their cabin luggage perhaps but the check-in luggage which is also exempted from screening? That may accidentally put the planes, the passengers and the crew at risk.
According to Mohan Ranganathan, a former member of the aviation ministry’s air safety committee, “This is a mockery of safety rules.” Such a long list of exempted category tacitly points out that Indian airport security is lacking. Are the lives of passengers expendable while only VVIP lives are to be saved?
The special privileges clearly show our Babu Raj. It just demonstrates who is who of the Indian political and bureaucratic establishment. “Breezing through the airport is perhaps the biggest status symbol of all today,” says a former commandant at the Central Industrial Security Force, which looks after security at airports.
Moreover, the special privileges granted to such a long list of beneficiaries come at a cost. It is the hard earned money of Indian citizens paid through taxation which is extracted from the government exchequer towards entertaining these VIPs with free tea, water, coffee, etc. at the airport. The VIP treatment is meted out at great inconvenience to the public, especially if some VIP delays a flight for reasons like a family member had not boarded the particular flight.
But the question is deeper. This kind of VIP culture is something all Indians are guilty of following. It may come through something as tenuous as breaking a traffic rule when there is no traffic police / CCTV cameras, breaking the queues, seeking special treatment in school admissions, etc. We are impatient to wait for our turn and it is no wonder then that these VIPs feel that it is their birth-right to breeze through airports without security checks. Perhaps we should, as citizens, improve our attitude first and then question the VIP treatment to these eminent personalities.