Play the Swachh Bharat anthem on board, ask crew to wear swachhata badge, place Swachh Bharat booklets in seat pockets. These are among the government instructions that airlines are following to step up Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s flagship campaign. But, a competition to promote cleanliness across airports may turn out to be a clincher, especially for the prizes that winning airlines can get.
Best performing airlines could possibly be rewarded with traffic rights on a lucrative route or perhaps a prime airport slot, according to a communication sent by the Ministry of Civil Aviation to airlines and airports.
This is part of Swachh Bharat Pakhwada — a 15-day drive organised by all government ministries to promote cleanliness and sanitation. The aviation industry is, however, sceptical about the promised prizes.
“Giving away bilateral rights as prize to promote a government programme is uncalled for,” said a person attending the event. Airlines have been asked to appoint a nodal officer reporting back to the ministry regarding the activities undertaken by them, he said.
When contacted, civil aviation secretary Pradeep Singh Kharola said the subject was under discussion. “No final decision has been taken. All aspects will be kept in mind before any decision is taken,” he said.
Bilateral rights and airport slots are a scarce and coveted resource for airlines. While bilateral traffic rights allow airlines to launch flights to foreign destinations, an airport slot is a permission to operate flights at an airport during specified hours.
There are set guidelines to allocate resource among airlines, based on demand and volume of operations.
Except Air India, all airlines are operated by private players and together have 87 per cent market share. Airports like Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and Bengaluru are privately operated.
When Jet Airways got grounded, there was a clamour for the vacated traffic rights and slots among existing airlines. In the absence of a formal process, some of the rights of Jet were allocated through a lottery process, raising allegations of favouritism.
For instance, traffic rights to destinations in West Asia are an attractive proposition and winning a right to launch an additional flight on these routes is commercially beneficial.
The prime minister launched the Swachh Bharat campaign in 2014, with the target of eliminating open defecation. In September, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation honoured the PM for the campaign.
For the Swachhata Pakhwada, an annual calendar is circulated among ministries to plan such activities. According to the action plan, ministries introduce awards to encourage activities in the area. In the case of telecom, service providers were asked to send Swachhta related messages ‘Swachh Rahe Bharat, Swasth Rahe Hum’ to their mobile subscribers. Ministries are monitored closely using online system where action plans, images and videos are uploaded and shared, according to the Swachh Bharat Mission agenda.
An airline executive argued that the government should not ask private players to promote its schemes. ‘’Some of our flyers may not want to see such messages,” he said.