Lalu, Rabri off tarmac

Patna, July 22: RJD president Lalu Prasad and his wife Rabri Devi, both former Bihar chief ministers, can no longer drive straight to their aircraft at Patna airport as the central government has withdrawn their tarmac access.

This implies that from now onwards, both Lalu and Rabri will have to go through the normal pre-embarkation security procedure and frisking at Patna airport like any other passenger.

A letter issued by the Union civil aviation ministry to the director-general, Bureau of Civil Aviation Security (BCAS), yesterday says: “It has now been decided that the permission accorded to Lalu Prasad and Rabri Devi… may be withdrawn forthwith. BCAS is accordingly requested to take immediate action to issue necessary instructions in this regard to all concerned.”

Sources in the Central Industrial Security Force, which is in charge of airport security, confirmed receiving the order. “In its order dated July 21 the ministry has asked to disallow the two political leaders from driving up in a vehicle to the tarmac for boarding a flight at the Patna airport,” a senior CISF official said.

Sources in the civil aviation ministry said the two leaders were accorded the VIP privilege in August 2009 by the UPA-II government. The privilege was limited to only the Patna airport.

Sources said the civil aviation ministry had asked the BCAS in April itself, just after the Centre banned red beacons for VIPs, to send the list of persons who have been provided privileged treatment at airports. The Centre wished to prune the list and exempt only those who required medical assistance.

The sources added that the facility provided to Lalu and Rabri was withdrawn on the ground that neither leader enjoys any constitutional post at present. Former chief ministers are not included in the list of persons exempt from pre-embarkation security checks at civilian airports in the country. Former Presidents, former Vice-Presidents and former Prime Ministers continue to enjoy the privilege.

Currently, BJP’s Patna MP Shatrughan Sinha also enjoys tarmac access on health grounds. LJP chief Ram Vilas Paswan had also been given this privilege some years ago, but he now automatically qualifies on account of being a Union cabinet minister.

RJD spokesperson Manoj Jha questioned the civil aviation ministry’s decision to deprive the privilege to Lalu and Rabri. “Lalu Prasad is a former Bihar chief minister and former Union railway minister. He is one of the most popular mass leaders in the country,” Jha said.

Another RJD spokesman, Mritunjay Tiwari, said the people of the country were watching how Lalu and Rabri were being targeted and this move was part of the continuing process. He said the people would give a “befitting reply” to those responsible for this at an appropriate time.

Additional reporting by Imran Ahmed Siddiqui

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