A bill to set up the first-ever national aviation university in the country named after Rajiv Gandhi to train pilots, cabin crew and aircraft engineers was passed in the Lok Sabha on Friday.
The proposed university would come up at Sonia Gandhi's constituency of Rae Bareli in Uttar Pradesh.
Civil Aviation Minister Ajit Singh moved the Rajiv Gandhi National Aviation University Bill, 2013 which provides for creation of this central university on a 26 acre plot at the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udaan Academy at Fursatganj in Rae Bareli. It was passed after a short discussion.
Speaking before the Bill was put to vote, Singh allayed fears of members on privatisation of airports. "I want to say that all these airports in the country will continue to be owned by the Airports Authority of India," he said, adding that any construction or development of the existing airports will be done on Public-Private Partnership (PPP) basis.
He also said his ministry is working on opening more domestic airports in the country and may expand the airports of the Air Force for this purpose in some districts.
Initiating the debate on the bill, Ananth Kumar (BJP) questioned the logic behind setting up the proposed university in Rae Bareli. "Rae Bareli is an aviation desert. It should be set up in Bangalore, where all the required infrastructure is present," he said.
Kumar also questioned why the proposed institution is being named after late Rajiv Gandhi. He said while he had nothing against the former Prime Minister, the university could have been named in the memory of M Vishveshwariah who was behind the creation of Hindustan Aeronautics Limited.
He accused Congress members of indulging in sycophancy by naming various schemes after Rajiv Gandhi and wondered why the Civil Aviation Minister, who heads RLD, had to be part of that.
The university, an autonomous body under administrative control of the Civil Aviation Ministry, would have an estimated funding of Rs 202 crore during the 12th Plan period, of which Rs 80 crore has already been sanctioned by the Centre.
The need for the university was felt due to the "marked absence of credible institutions imparting specialised technical and managerial training in air transportation, safety, security and regulatory areas," the bill's Statement of Objects and Reasons said.
"The opportunity cost of not investing in human resources required for the civil aviation sector in India at this juncture would result in reduced growth, increased cost of operations, compromise on safety and missed opportunities," it said.
The varsity would promote aviation studies, training and research with focus on emerging areas like aviation management, aviation regulation and policy, aviation history, aviation science and engineering, aviation law, aviation safety and security and aviation medicine.
During the debate on the Bill, Shailendra Kumar (SP) said while he supported the bill, he wanted the Centre to set up new institutions in other parts of UP. "You already have a Rail Coach Factory, petroleum institute and a women's university there. Everything need not be in either Rae Bareli or Amethi," he said.
Gorakhnath Pandey (BSP) also supported the measure but said similar institute should be set up Bhadoi which has ample land.
Saugata Roy (TMC) lamented a lack of standardisation in courses offering training in various branches of civil aviation. He also attacked companies like GMR and GVK, which he alleged, were not doing a good job in modernising airports.
He alleged that Singh was forced to privatise airports under pressure from the Planning Commission. He insisted that while some airport operations can be outsourced, management and critical operations should remain with the government. Sharad Yadav (JD-U) supported Roy.
Sushil Kumar Singh (JD-U), T R Baalu (DMK), Nama Nageshwar Rao (TDP), S K Bwiswmuthiary (BPF) also spoke during the debate. Saidul Haque (CPI-M) opposed the Bill.