India plans special force to secure airports

By bappaditya paul  

To provide better security cover to all aviation installations in the country, including airports, the Union civil aviation ministry is planning to raise an elite Airport Security Force (ASF) of its own.

The ministry has already prepared a detailed proposal on this and the same is now under consideration of Mr Ajit Singh, the Union civil aviation minister.

According to sources in the Airports Authority of India (AAI) headquarters in Delhi, the ASF is proposed to be formed on the lines of the Railway Protection Force (RPF) of the Indian Railways.

Similar to the RPF, which is responsible for protecting railway installations in India; the ASF too will be exclusively looking after the security of all airports and other civil aviation installations in the country.

At the top, the proposed elite aviation force will be under the administrative control of the civil aviation ministry. At the operational level, it will be under the control of the director / officer-in-charge of a concerned airport.

There are 129 airports in India at present, of which 125 are managed by the state-owned AAI.

Consequent to the hijacking of the Indian Airlines flight ~ IC 814 ~ in 1999, the security responsibility of all civil airports in India was entrusted with the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), beginning with Jaipur airport, in 2000.

Though the CISF continues to manage the security of the airports, the airport administrations often face difficulties in day-to-day operations as the CISF personnel are only answerable to their bosses and they do not entertain instructions from the management of the airport they are posted at.

“For example, even if there is a long queue of fliers at the entry gate or at the security check-in, the airport administration cannot ask the CISF to depute additional personnel to ease out the queue.”

“At best a request can be placed with the CISF-head at that particular airport, but it is entirely up to them whether to entertain the request or not. Besides, there are several other situations when conflicts arise between the airport managements and the CISF. As a remedy to all this, the idea of the ASF has been conceived,” said an AAI source.

As proposed, when recruiting soldiers and officers for the ASF, it is the CISF personnel who will get the first priority followed by the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF).

This is because while the CISF personnel are already providing security to most of the airports and are aware of the nitty-gritty; CRPF personnel too have hands-on experience on the matter, as they are the ones who keep airports secure in militant-hit states, such as the Srinagar Airport in Jammu & Kashmir.

“The crucial difference will be that the ASF being an in-house force, the personnel will feel for the aviation sector and hopefully, they will be more sensible in handling the everyday situations that arise at the airports. Moreover, since the ASF will be reporting to the airport director, she/he will have the authority to issue instructions to them as per requirements,” the AAI source added.

Now, once the civil aviation minister clears the ASF file, it is likely to go to the Union finance ministry for clearance. At the final leg, the proposal will be placed before the Union Cabinet for ratification.

(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This piece first appeared in The Statesman on 19 May 2012.)

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