New Delhi: The government cannot abdicate its responsibility towards citizens by doing nothing on predatory airfares and rules must be changed if they are the ones preventing effective curbs on this unhealthy practice, a parliament panel has said.
It also asked the civil aviation ministry whose interest it was subserving with such a hands-off approach, to specifically study the rules and regulations that were coming in the way of addressing the issue of predatory airfares, and to spell out the future steps needed to tackle it.
"The explanation given by the Ministry of Civil Aviation is purely technical, suggesting they are unable to do anything under existing laws. The committee observes this is amounting to abdicating their basic responsibilities of protecting the citizens of the country," it said.
"The committee, therefore, strongly recommends that the Ministry of Civil Aviation should specify the limitations, legal and otherwise, which need to be amended or other measures to be put in place to tackle this problem after consulting all the stakeholders."
Chaired by Kanwar Deep Singh of the Trinamool Congress, the panel observed that while prices of aviation fuel fell from Rs.74,204.74 per kilolitre in Delhi as on December 1, 2013, to Rs.35,127 per kilolitre as on March 1 this year, nothing has been done to cut fares.
"The committee could understand jet fuel constitutes 40 percent of an airline's operating cost. The committee, however, notes even after 50 percent reduction of prices over a period of time, airlines have not passed on the benefit of reduction to the consumers," it said.
"The committee recommends that the ministry should take effective steps to ensure that airlines pass on the benefit to travellers by reducing the air fares and inform the committee about the specific steps taken in this regard and the outcome thereof," it said.
"The committee fails to understand whose interest is sought to be sub-served by taking such a stand, that too before a parliamentary committee which is empowered to suggest necessary modification in our rules, regulations that are coming in our way for correcting airfares."
Answering a question in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, however, said that barely 2 percent of the higher airline fares were on account of ticketing -- suggesting airlines had not indulged in hiking fares without reason.
"We had done an analysis of the whole thing. We find the high side of the fares in the total ticketing is less than 2 percent. So, we realise the prices of tickets have come down in most routes, particularly where the competition is more, it has come down," the minister said.
"What is bothering us is where the competition is less, airfares are a bit high. We need strategies to increase capacity there. Capacities and growth in the country have been going up. But if we stifle growth, we will not be able to even attend to this problem."
Raju also said it was not as though airlines were not responsive to the government's calls. During the Chennai and Srinagar floods, as also during the Jat agitation, his ministry had given advisories to airlines and some of them did respond.
"Capacity does get increased and things do come under control. We want to keep the baby and throw the bathwater out. We do not want to throw the baby along with the bathwater."