Maharashtra, which has been unwilling to reopen its airports for passenger flights, made a U-turn on Sunday, deciding to allow 25 flights to and from Mumbai today. The fresh decision was announced by state minister Nawab Malik barely a couple of hours after Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray indicated that the state was not ready for such a move yet. Maharashtra has the maximum number of coronavirus cases in the country -- 50,231 out of the total cases reported so far.
"I have just spoken to the Chief Secretary. After discussing the issue with all agencies, it has been decided that 25 flights will operate from Mumbai airport tomorrow. This number will increase slowly," Maharashtra cabinet minister Nawab Malik told NDTV on Sunday.
He also criticised the Central government, saying, "The Narendra Modi government makes announcement after announcement, without discussing the issue with the state government".
This afternoon, in an address to the people of the state, Uddhav Thackeray had said that he has spoken to aviation minister Hardeep Sigh Puri and the state needs "more time to prepare" for passenger flights.
The Chief Minister's Office had also tweeted, saying only emergency flights will operate for now. The Chief Minister also said he wants the Mumbai airport to fine tune its operations and come up with a plan.
Pointing to the huge number of coronavirus cases in his state, Mr Thackeray had said al the airports in the big cities -- Mumbai, Nagpur, Pune -- were located in red zones, meaning areas that have the maximum number of coronavirus patients.
Mr Thackeray said the next 15 days will be crucial and that the state might have to extend the lockdown beyond May 31 -- the current deadline set by the government.
"A lot of movement of people is expected, anticipating more cases as well. So things can open up only gradually. We won't lift lockdown now. We can't say that lockdown will be over by May 31... Need to be extra cautious during monsoon," he added.
The resumption of domestic flights -- announced by the Centre earlier this week -- became a matter of uncertainty in Maharashtra as the state, from the beginning made its unwillingness to go with the plan clear. Though states cannot veto Centre's plan to run open aviation, they can stop passengers from getting off an aircraft.
The Centre had made the announcement on May 20 with Maharashtra's concurrence, sources said. Union minister Hardeep Puri had also tweeted about cooperative federalism, saying flights should not be landed in states without the approval of the state governments.
"It is not upto @MoCA_GoI or centre alone to decide on resuming domestic flights. In the spirit of cooperative federalism, the govt of states where these flights will take off & land should be ready to allow civil aviation operations," his tweet read.
Besides Maharashtra, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu -- home to the busy Kolkata and Chennai airports -- had objected to the Centre's plan to restart passenger flights.
Tamil Nadu, which has the second-highest number of cases, raised concerns similar to Maharashtra. Bengal, battered by the cyclone Amphan, requested for relief till May 30.