With Post of BCAS Chief Still Vacant, Indian Airports at Risk, Says Report

Departures Drop Off Area at CSIA, Mumbai. Credit: Chris Hoare/Flickr CC 2.0

Departures Drop Off Area at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai. Credit: Chris Hoare/Flickr CC 2.0

New Delhi: At a time of heightened airport security in the wake of the terrorist bombings at Brussels, Indian policymakers need to explain why the all-important post of commissioner of security at the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security has been lying vacant for over three years..

Four months ago, a parliamentary panel questioned why the government had failed to appoint the BCAS chief  all this time. This vacancy existed despite the BCAS being, as stated on its own website, the authority for the ‘development, implementation and maintenance of the National Civil Aviation Security Programme of India.’

Recently, on March 11, 2016, the Ministry of Home Affairs provided three IPS officers as candidates for the post of commissioner of security in BCAS. This was based on a request for a fresh panel of suitable officers by the ministry of civil aviation.

The candidate remains to be selected and the post filled.

Vacancy poses security threats

The matter assumes significance because the department-related Parliamentary Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, which comprised 30 MPs and was headed by Kanwar Deep Singh, had in its report found several shortcomings in the security of the airports across the country. [PDF]

In the context of Delhi airport, the committee observed that BCAS “appeared to have remained unconcerned” regarding various concerns expressed by the Delhi police. It cautioned that “such gaps are sure to lead to any disaster at any time” at an airport like Indira Gandhi International Airport – one of the most sensitive in the country.

The panel also flagged the issue of slums near the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport, Mumbai, stating that these pose a grave threat to the security of the airport.

It observed: “There exist 35 pockets of slums in airport, wherein 80,000 families having four lakh people are residing. There is also hillock full of slums overlooking the operational area of the airport. The problems are persisting for the last so many years… Any breach of security at the airport will have far reaching consequences.” It warned that “a disaster is waiting to happen at any moment in view of these dangerously placed encroachments overlapping operational areas.”

In light of this threat, it called upon all the relevant agencies to “see the danger looming large” and recommended that “all the slums must be removed and relocated from the airport area.”

It went on to state that “there is no justification for allowing encroachers inside the airport area” and “the Mumbai airport is sitting on a ticking bomb until it is relocated.” It also recommended that Mumbai International Airport Limited and the government of Maharashtra immediately come forward with adequate proposals to rehabilitate the slums.

Lack of funds no excuse

Observing that “civil aviation security is a very integral and important element of national security” and that “any large scale damage/terrorist attack on the airport complex will be catastrophic with far reaching grave implications for the citizens and the economy,” the parliamentary panel noted that a lack of funds should not be allowed to come in the way of airport security.

It expressed concern that a lack of funds was being cited as one of the reasons for not handing over the airports to Central Industrial Security Force for security:

“Out of 98 functional airports, only 59 are covered with CISF security cover and 39 are not under CISF. Explanations given to the Committee was lack of funds for providing CISF security …. The security must be adequate and in proportion to the threat perception. Funds should not come in the way of providing security.”

It further added that of the 26 operational airports in the ‘hyper-sensitive’ category, eight are yet to be provided with CISF security cover.

The panel suggested that to make security “adequate and in proportion to the threat perception,” the CISF security cover should be provided to all the 70 odd airports that have normal scheduled operations.

But to begin with, the committee recommended that all the airports rated ‘hyper-sensitive’ from the security angle be given to CISF as soon as possible, followed by ‘sensitive’ airports.

It also called for the urgent acquisition of presently deficient security gadgets, the installation of additional CCTV cameras, and the clearance of ‘shadow zones’ at various airports.