After selling the Maharajah

News: The gains from the sale of Air India would be incomplete if follow-up steps are not taken to reorganise the civil aviation ministry. Reforms of this ministry are long overdue, and the Air India sale should expedite such a decision.

What does the Union civil aviation ministry do?

The ministry is responsible for formulating national policies and programmes for the development and regulation of the civil aviation sector in the country.

It is also responsible for the administration of the Aircraft Act, Aircraft Rules and a few other laws pertaining to the aviation sector.

More importantly, the ministry exercises administrative control of organisations such as the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), the Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India (AERAI), the Commission of Railway Safety (CRS), the Aircraft Accident Investigation Bureau (AAIB), the Airports Authority of India (AAI) and Air India.

Why downsizing of civil aviation ministry is necessary?

Downsizing the manpower in the aviation ministry would make it leaner and more efficient.

More importantly, this will make the regulatory bodies in the civil aviation sector, like the DGCA, the AERAI, the BCAS and the AAIB, truly autonomous.

The aviation ministry would also be restricted from influencing these organizations beyond playing its legitimate role in policy-making.

Must Read: Privatisation of Air India – Explained, pointwise
What steps should be taken by the govt?
Civil aviation governance structure reforms: Redeploying or curtailing excess manpower under Civil Aviation Ministry.

DGCA should be structured as an independent regulator rather than being an extension of civil aviation ministry. The ministry should lay down the policy and give the DGCA the freedom to implement the policy. If there is a need for an appellate body to address grievances of aviation players against decisions taken by the DGCA, such a body should be created.

AERAI: As ministry plans to hand over the ownership and management of many airports to private enterprises, exercising any administrative control over AERAI would not be optimal.

The functioning of organisations like the BCAS and the AAIB should also be made independent of the civil aviation ministry. The functions and role of these organisations are best performed if they do not operate as an extension of the ministry.

CRS should be made a truly independent and sufficiently empowered organisation to examine railway safety issues and accidents. No purpose is served by keeping it under the civil aviation ministry. CRS was created under the administrative control of the civil aviation ministry, many years ago in 1989 under the Railway Act.

What is the way forward?

If this major ministerial reorganisation can be achieved in the civil aviation ministry, the same template could be enforced in other central ministries.

For instance, if banks are to be privatised, the role and relevance of the department of financial services should be revisited.

Source: This post is based on the article “After selling the Maharajah” published in Business Standard on 10th Nov 2021.

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