By Anil Dhir
Bhubaneswar: Amongst all the hullabaloo of India and Bharat, with chest thumping nationalists batting for the name makeover, one very important and pertinent aspect of national identity has been forgotten. The registration number of every civilian Indian aircraft carries the legacy of the ‘British Raj’. The Code ‘VT’, meaning “Viceroy’s Territory”, affixed to every civilian aircraft is a sad reflection of colonial rule. This needs to be changed, we have to get rid of the Colonial symbol of slavery which has been tagging our sovereign nation since 1919 when it was allocated to India under the country name “British India”.
Each country is assigned a unique call sign to identify the aircraft registered in its territory. The USA has been assigned the call sign ‘N’ while Russia’s is ‘RA’. India was assigned its call sign during the International Radiotelegraph Convention of Washington, in November 1927. Since India was then under British occupation, the British chose VT, which stood for Victorian / Viceroy Territory.
Why has India continued with VT code in the last 76 years? There have been a slew of petitions in the Courts seeking a change of the registration alphabets. The matter has come up in Parliament oftentimes.The Congress-led UPA had raked up the issue in 2004 soon after coming to power and asked the ICAO to say what VT stood for and see whether the call sign could be changed. India was keen on codes like IN for India, BH for Bharat or even HI for Hindustan.
But most of these has already been taken by other nations. Five years later, it gave up after the ICAO refused to accept any of the alternatives suggested over the years. “An attempt was made with the ICAO and, after evaluating all options, it has been decided not to replace the existing mark VT as no other code which distinctly identifies India is available,” Praful Patel, the then civil aviation minister, told Parliament in August 2009.
In its report on Demands for Grants for 2016-17, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture headed by the Trinamool Congress MP K D Singh said the Indian civil aviation sector has grown stupendously and that it can be compared to any other developed nation. “The committee also feels that it is high time to set aside the sign of a colonial past and acquire a new call sign which appropriately denotes the Indian civil aviation sector,” the report said. Till date the efforts of the NDA government to change the registration code too have been fruitless.
Is the call sign allotted permanent? Not quite. Countries like Pakistan, Nepal, Fiji and Sri Lanka had changed the call signs of their aircraft immediately after they got independence.
Since an aircraft isn’t allowed to operate without a call sign, changing it will mean repainting all the aircraft of all the airlines as also changing the documentation related to the aircraft. In a debate on the issue in the Lok Sabha last year, minister of state for civil aviation V K Singh informed that till the markings are changed, “aircraft will remain grounded” which means loss of revenue for airlines.
Next time you board a flight on an Indian carrier, you can get solace and restore your hurt national pride by telling yourself that the registration mark “VT” is used because it stands for “Vishwabhushan Tiranga”, which means “World-renowned Tricolour” in Hindi.