Civil Aviation Ministry non-committal about subsidised air tickets
With Ladakh bracing up to host domestic and foreign tourists, the exorbitant air travel to the arid region continues to be a cause for worry for all stakeholders as the Civil Aviation Ministry is yet to make a formal commitment on “rationalisation of airfares” for Ladakh during peak tourist season from May to September.
Their only hope about some relief lies in the expected increase in the frequency of flights to Ladakh in summer. Besides Vistara, a domestic airline, has also decided to start its operation for Ladakh this month.
According to sources, the number of daily flights to Leh from other parts of the country would go up to 14 during the summer season this year against the seven-nine flights a day during the corresponding period last year.
Pertinently, the Leh Council had in December, 2015, raised the issue of high airfares and less frequency of flights to Ladakh with Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Civil Aviation Ministry. At that time, the council was assured that more airlines would provide services to Ladakh from 2016 while the ticket rates would also be slashed and subsidised.
Nawang Rigzin Jora, Leh MLA and Congress Legislature Party leader, said, “No action has been taken so far. This is gross injustice with the people of Ladakh. The high airfares have not only been affecting the tourism sector but the students also. The state government has miserably failed to vigorously take up the issue with the quarters concerned in New Delhi.”
The senior leader said, “The airlines charge at their sweet will because there is no regulatory authority for the airfares. The need of the hour is to form a regulatory authority on the pattern of the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India and Central Electricity Authority of India to end the monopoly of the airlines.”
If one analyses the rates of different airlines operating in Ladakh, single journey (one-way) travel to Leh in June will cost anything between Rs 9,000 to Rs 17,000 per passenger on advanced booking. These rates may further go up for instant bookings.
PT Kunzang, president of All Tourists’ Trade Alliance, Leh, said they had been pressing hard for subsidised air travel to Ladakh to provide some succour to the locals.
“The Civil Aviation Ministry has taken no action so far. Students and patients face hardships during peak tourist season because it becomes quite unaffordable for them to travel at such high rates. The only solution is to evolve civil aviation policy on the pattern of North-East region for Ladakh,” Kunzang said.
Sonam Dawa Lonpo, Chief Executive Councillor, Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council, Leh, said they had taken up the matter with the Central government and it was decided that a policy would be framed wherein the airfares would be assessed on the total time taken for the travel.
“It could not happen because of some technicalities. We will again take up the matter with the Central leaderships to provide relief to the people. However, the increase in number of flights per day will definitely bring some comfort to the tourists and locals,” Dawa said.
Thupstan Chhewang, Member of Parliament, Ladakh, said they had taken up the matter with the Civil Aviation Ministry resulting in increase in daily flights. “This increase will bring down the rates of air tickets. Yet efforts are being made to provide more relief to students and senior citizens.”
Currently, at least seven-eight flights operate on the Leh-Delhi sector or Leh and other sectors on a daily basis against the requirement of at least 15 flights to cater to the heavy inflow of tourists and visitors in summer.