In a disheartening revelation, the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India's audit report has uncovered the underwhelming performance of the 'Udaan Yojana' regional connectivity scheme. Launched in 2016 with the aim of linking remote areas via affordable air travel, the scheme has faced significant challenges and setbacks throughout its implementation.
Glance at the Numbers: The UDAN Scheme's Struggle
The CAG report meticulously examined the UDAN scheme's three-phase approach. The scheme targeted a total of 774 routes across the nation, aiming to bridge the gap between urban centres and smaller towns. However, the report highlights that 403 routes failed to kickstart operations at all.
Among the 371 routes that did begin operations, merely 112 routes sustained activity for a duration of three years. Alarmingly, a substantial number of routes were abandoned before this three-year mark, leaving only 54 routes operational as of March 2023.
CAG's Insights into the Debacle: Airport Infrastructure and Funding Woes
The CAG report doesn't shy away from pointing out the reasons for the UDAN scheme's shortcomings. The airports and airstrips that were chosen for the scheme faced significant delays in development and renovation. Of the 116 selected facilities, 83 failed to initiate operations on time, despite a significant investment of Rs 1089 crore from the government. This logistical bottleneck greatly contributed to the scheme's inability to achieve its goals.
Ridership Drops: Passenger Numbers Decrease on Regional Connectivity Routes
While the UDAN scheme witnessed an initial surge in passengers over the years, the trend has reversed in recent times. The following data sheds light on this decline:
Small Routes Struggle, Even Longer Routes Face Challenges
The CAG report outlines the difficulties faced by routes of varying distances:
- Routes under 200 km: 26 routes
- Routes between 200 km and 400 km: 97 routes
- Occupancy for the former: 38%
- Routes over 400 km: 51 routes
- Only 67% of these routes could thrive
The Rigged Ticketing System: Cheating Passengers
The Regional Connectivity Scheme introduced the concept of selling tickets at concessional fares initially and allowing the sale of non-concessional tickets later. However, a concerning revelation from the CAG's investigation exposed malpractices in ticketing by operators such as SpiceJet and IndiGo.
These airlines failed to report the availability of seats at concessional rates, resulting in passengers being unaware of such options. Transparency issues in ticket booking persist despite these findings.
Reassessing the UDAN Scheme's Future
As the CAG report's findings come to light, it becomes clear that the 'Udaan Yojana' regional connectivity scheme has fallen short of its intended objectives. The operational struggles, airport infrastructure delays, and lack of transparency in ticket booking have collectively contributed to the scheme's disappointing performance.
While the scheme's initial promise attracted passengers, recent declines in ridership highlight the need for a comprehensive reevaluation of its strategy moving forward. As the government and aviation authorities grapple with the challenges revealed by this report, the future of regional connectivity in India remains uncertain.