MUMBAI: Over 7,000 residents of Air India colonies located near the Mumbai airport in Kalina will have to vacate their staff quarters six months after the airline’s disinvestment or when the property is monetised—whichever happens first.

The decision was taken this month by the ministerial panel formed to work out the modalities of the national carrier’s disinvestment.

The airline occupies 184 acres of land in Kalina which formerly belonged to the government-owned Airports Authority of India, and was later passed on to GVK when Mumbai airport was privatised; it will now belong to the Adani Group, said an AI source.

The land also boasts of cricket grounds that have nurtured the likes of Prithvi Shaw, Yashasvi Jaiswal, Shivam Dube and Ajinkya Rahane; grounds where MCA holds special camps for budding cricketers and where BCCI conducts its women’s team practice. There are also two schools—the AI Modern school and IA Ideal school—which together have about 3,000 students, said the source.

AI Kalina staffers could make an ‘air-dash’ to airport

The first buildings in these colonies were constructed in 1956, over a decade after the Mumbai airport opened for flights. But for Air India, the significance of this colony comes from its proximity to the city airport. “In April last year, when international cargo flights landed in Mumbai carrying PPE kits, medicines and drugs, loaders staying in far-off suburbs couldn’t travel to the airport due to lockdown. So we went around Air India colonies seeking volunteers for cargo loading, unloading, aircraft push back, etc. Before each flight landed,16-20 AI staffers from the colony would walk down the ten-minute road to the deserted airport’s Kalina entrance and from there drive passenger coach buses to the apron to handle these freighter flights,” said George Abraham, general secretary, Aviation Industry Employees Guild.

In July 10, 2018, an Air India Express aircraft went off the runway during landing. Its wheels ploughed in, disabling the aircraft and forcing the airport to shut down the main runway. The city was inundated with monsoon floods, all modes of transport were suspended and so the only people who could rush to the airport to begin the disabled aircraft retrieval work were AI engineers from Kalina colony. Like AI, Mumbai air traffic control too has staff quarters close to the airport, housing employees who can rush to the airport during an emergency.

Abraham said, “It’s criminal to ask the airline staff to vacate the quarters. There are people with 10-20 years of service left, those with children in the colony schools. Typically, the AI staff vacate their colony quarters post-retirement and with the retirement money, they buy flats in distant suburbs like Nalasopara, Virar. They will be homeless now.”

The AIASM order said: “Appropriate binding legal and other arrangements, including financial disincentives should be formulated to enable prompt vacation of the properties.”

Once privatised, the new company might not want to handle the lease burden, said an Air India source. “AI used to pay a rent of Rs 14 crore a year to AAI, which was increased to Rs 24 crore in 2007, when GVK took over,” the source said.

Back then, AI had given a commitment to hand over the land to GVK in a phased manner. In turn, GVK was to construct a multi-storeyed building to house the AI colony’s staffers.



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