On April 27 2017, Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the flagship programme UDAN (Ude Desh ka Aam Nagrik – Let the Common Man Fly) in Shimla. During the launch of the first flight, the Prime Minister stated that his government intends to make people wearing ‘hawai chappal‘ (slippers) fly in ‘hawai jahaaz‘ (airplanes).
The joint secretary, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Government of India, Usha Padhee wrote an article on UDAN in the February 2019 issue of Yojana, (a monthly journal of the Central Government), where she mentioned that air traffic has grown three folds in India since Udan was launched, and the nation has the potential to be among the top three nations in terms of national and international passenger traffic.
An article in ‘The Hindu’ says only four out of the 20 UDAN routes are operational in the Northeast. It says, “Two years since the launch of the ambitious low-cost flying scheme, aerial connectivity continues to elude the north-eastern region. While as many as 20 bi-directional routes were awarded to various airlines during this period, only four are currently operational.”
UDAN is divided into two components, the first is to develop new airports and improve the existing regional airports so it will lead to an increase in the number of operational airports.
The second component is to add financially-viable, capped-airfare and new regional flight routes to connect more than 100 underserved and unserved airports in smaller towns with each other and also to airports in bigger cities.
After almost a month since the Jet Airways terminated its services to Mizoram with only one daily Air India flight remaining for the Mizo citizens, the Central Government has remained quiet on any plans to introduce additional flight services to the State.
Due to the withdrawal of flights to Guwahati and Delhi from Aizawl by Jet Airways on February 9 last, Mizoram has now direct air link with Kolkata only creating a big hurdle for the citizens.
As per the census taken in 2011, the population of the state of Mizoram is roughly 11.2 lakhs. Out of these 11.2 lakhs, the population that require daily flight commute would make up the hundreds who require medical treatment due to the lack of facilities within the State, the thousands who are engaged in business and the larger part of the youth who study in various parts of the country with only limited seats available in the few educational institutions within the State.
The minimal flight seats have left no option for the state citizens but to head to Guwahati and Silchar by road to catch flights from the cities of the neighboring state of Assam in times of emergency.
Chief Minister Zoramthanga as well as the Governor of Mizoram Kummanam Rajasekharan have approached the central ministry to seek help but according to the principal consultant of Aviation of Mizoram Government, J Lalhmingliana, they have not received any confirmatory word from the central ministry till date.
In a meeting with the Governor, the Union Civil Aviation minister Suresh Prabhu had promised to extend all possible helps to restore the state’s air link. The minister had also said that Indigo would soon launch operation from Aizawl to Agartala.
Apart from the Governor and Chief Minister, the State BJP officials had also approached the central government. Earlier in February, the Mizoram State BJP representative Ramthansanga had met the Union Civil Aviation Minister Suresh Prabhu and informed the inconveniences faced by the people of Mizoram due to discontinuation of Jet Airways flights from Aizawl to Delhi and Guwahati.
The Civil Aviation Minister, Suresh Prabhu had responded by promising him additional flights starting from March 1, 2019.
Meanwhile the citizens are in a crux.
Jervis Nghaka, owner of Jayjay Foods, said “We are in a helpless condition with our business often coming to a halt as we are not able to make it on time for important meetings. Our order of business is greatly disturbed with the limited flight options. It is difficult for us to travel out of the State as well as bring our official guests to the State.”
It is not just businesses that are shaken, the sorrow of relatives of the ill and dead who need to reach their loved ones have also doubled due to the halt of the flight service.
Irene, a resident of Chennai, recalls her experience, “On February 10 last, we were shocked with the news about my uncle’s sudden death at 4 pm. My mother, who was in Chennai (for my father’s cancer treatment), wanted to attend her brother’s funeral which was to be held the following day. We immediately went online to check for the available flights but could not get any ticket for the next day as there was only one flight from Kolkata to Lengpui on Monday, and the flight was fully booked. The next available flight was 5 days from that. My mother was heart-broken so we tried all stops we could think of – all the travel agents we knew, emergency quota through officials, special request for a ticket through Air India employees that we knew – but no such luck, no amount of pressure or connection or special concession could get us a ticket to the only flight available to get to Lengpui. So my mother had to contend with a mobile video stream for the last goodbye she would give to her beloved brother.”
A staff of Omega Travels, a prominent travel agency in Aizawl said, “In emergency cases such as interviews, examinations and illness, one has to go to Silchar. We have had 2-3 instances where patients had to go to Silchar in an ambulance to catch a flight.”
It also leads to a loss for the ten or so travel agencies in the city.