The central government’s Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN) scheme, which has helped improve air connectivity to many tier 2 and 3 cities across the country with affordable airfares, is not only a non-starter in Punjab. but it also cost the state treasury dearly.

Out of the 5 planned stations across the state, where UDAN was to be launched, after its initiation by the Union Ministry of Aviation in 2016, only Amritsar has witnessed the implementation of this scheme, but the air traffic operations at this airport as per the scheme is no longer operational.

The scheme failed to take off at Ludhiana, Pathankot, Adampur (Jalandhar) and Bathinda airports, while most of these stations, according to aviation experts, have huge headroom for air traffic.

It may be mentioned that the UDAN scheme was aimed at making domestic flights affordable to the local people and the fare was capped at an economical rate so that maximum number of people could travel by air.

The Government of India and the Government of Punjab entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for this scheme, and under the agreement, there was a provision to provide Sustainability Gap Funding (VGF), which was to be provided by the Government of India and the Government of Punjab in respect of at 80% and 20% respectively. This VGF was to be provided for a period of 3 years from the date of operation of the flight, based on a formula for the selected airlines that showed willingness to operate.

Due to non-operational flights, Punjab has so far done almost 4 crore losses as part of VGF. Even the audit department has also objected this expense to the Punjab Aviation Department.

“On checking the records of Civil Aviation, Punjab, it was observed that the quantity of 3.45 crore was paid to Air India as 20% share of the state on account of VGF. But it was seen that out of five domestic airports, not a single flight is currently operating at any airport,” says the audit objection. It further stated that “VGF was paid for the initial three years and the flights were discontinued after VGF funding. This resulted in the loss of 3.45 crore as there is no operational flight under UDAN which defeats the very purpose of the scheme”.

Aviation department officials, who wished to remain anonymous, said that apart from funding the VGF, the Punjab government also pays heavily for arranging CISF security personnel at these airports. Initially, politicians wanted to start flights to get political benefits, but there was no reckless planning. Pathankot and Ludhiana stations have huge reach under the UDAN scheme, but frivolity has turned out to be a hurdle, officials added.

When contacted, Rahul Bhandari, Principal Secretary, Civil Aviation Department said he had joined the department recently and was not aware of the issue. “I will check and secure more domestic flights as it is the need of the hour,” he said.

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