The country’s first proposed “Airport City” at Andal near Durgapur, yesterday made its entry into the aviation map, but with the introduction of passenger helicopter services and not aeroplane services as was expected.
Pawan Hans Limited, the national helicopter company, following a MoU signed with the state government in March this year, launched the services and the first helicopter landed at the Airport City’s runway from Kolkata, after a 42-minute trip. The state transport secretary, additional chief secretary (transport), and Airport City officials were on board the helicopter.
But this was probably not the kind of beginning that the people of Durgapur expected about the airport at Andal. Recent reports that the Rs 600 crore greenfield airport that forms the heart of the aerocity project at Durgapur, is nearing completion and the airport will be ready for flight services by August-September, was in complete contrast with what was expected and what happened in reality.
For this contrast on what was said and what happened in reality yesterday, Mr. Bansogopal Chowdhury, CPI-M MP representing Asansol said: “We don’t know why an airport city is required for just helicopter services. It’s just an eye-wash and the company has a hidden motive to inflate its realty business.”
Even local residents opposing the acquisition of their lands for the project also gathered near the runway to stage a protest. Now after this low profile beginning, a big question mark has been put on the Durgapur Aerotropolis which had been seen as a project that is set to change the socio-economic profile of the Durgapur-Asansol region.
The Airport City, tagged as ‘Aerotropolis’ – a Rs 10,000 crore private venture – was first proposed and conceived in 2006 during left front rule. In 2007 a MOU between the Civil Aviation ministry, the state government and Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited – a specialty vehicle for the purpose – was signed in which Singapore’s Changi Airport International entered into equity participation in 2010.
The project has consistently faced roadblocks causing successive failures to meet the deadline for launch of flight service operations since 2010.
The initially declared requirement of 3000 acres for the project was gradually was reduced to 2400 acres, in view of the continued uproar against land acquisition in Andal.
The WBIDC, engaged as a key land procurement player. has also been accommodated in the project as a stakeholder. The Airport City authorities however are yet to get hold of some 200 acres required to set up a road-link with the NH2.
Residents of Andal, Bhadur, Dubchururia and Dignala mouzas yesterday assembled beside the runway and shouted slogans for withdrawal of the project.
One of the protesters said: “They are grabbing our farmland. Our Chief Minister has always been struggling against such land-grabbing but her officials are now accompanying the company that is eating up our prime land.”
Incidentally, last week, while addressing a poll rally near Andal, Miss Banerjee herself had announced that helicopter services from the airport would be introduced soon, but remained mum about land acquisition and the start of the airport for regular flight services.
Mr Alapan Banerjee, the state transport secretary said today: “Durgapur-Asansol has been included as prime locations for helicopter services in the MoU with Pawan Hans. So it was flagged off today. We have got no idea when the regular aeroplane services would begin from Andal.”
Mr Partha Ghosh, MD, BAPL did not respond when asked about the matter.