West Bengal chief minister Mamata Banerjee formally inaugurated the airport at Andal near Durgapur yesterday (19 September) and christened the airport as Kazi Nazrul Islam Airport, after the famous Bengali poet, musician and revolutionary. However serious apprehension remains about the high tension lines which runs across the runway of the proposed airport.
Apart from half of the state cabinet, poet’s daughter, Kalyani Kaji, grandsons – Kazi Arindam and Kazi Anirban also shared the stage with the CM at the event. Nazrul Islam, a Bengali poet popularly known as ‘Bidrohi Kobi’ (rebel poet) was born in Churulia village, about 20 Km from where the airport is coming up. Kazi Nazrul Islam later migrated to Bangladesh in 1972 and is officially recognised as the national poet of Bangladesh and commemorated in India.
The airport project at Andal was conceived in 2006-07 during the Left Front government and the airport was to have been ready a year before. But from the very beginning, Mamata Banerjee had serious reservation and apprehension about the project. Even after Miss Banerjee came to power in 2011, her government had opposed the project and held back various needed clearances.
Mamata Banerjee government also announced a decision to build another airport at Asansol, only 40 km away, among other things; that plan has now been given up. The developers also had to realign their land requirement and had various problems negotiating with the state government in acquiring whatever else was needed after the Left government had departed.
However, keeping away her apprehensions and differences, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee’s government finally demonstrated its support for the Andal Aerotropolis project near Durgapur. Mamata Banerjee promised all help on her part and rallied a total 11 secretaries, four ministers and two former Union ministers to show that her government is all for the project that she would showcase to prospective investors.
Director of Bengal Aerotropolis Project Limited Partha Ghosh said later that the CM was excited with the progress. “We are thankful to Mamata Banerjee for her decision to waive sales tax on aviation turbine fuel (ATF),” Ghosh said. He expects more FDI to flow besides Changi and Joy Mining, USA.
Determined to showcase the Andal airport project as its major achievement, Mamata Banerjee on Thursday said, “The Kazi Nazrul Islam airport is a landmark achievement. This will mark the beginning of a new era for Bengal as an investment destination. I would like to urge Changi and the investors’ community to come and invest in the state. That is our sole focus.”
The 650-acre airport is the nucleus of the airport city project that will also house an integrated township and an industrial and logistics hub. The township will also contain residential blocks, hospitals, schools, markets, hotels, sporting venues, shops, offices and retail centers.
The Aerotropolis project is expected to draw investment of Rs 12,000 crore and provide 40,000 direct and indirect employment opportunities. When complete, it will be home to nearly 15,000 people.
Partha Ghosh, the director and chief executive officer (CEO) of the project developer Bengal Aerotropolis Project Ltd. (BAPL) said, “We are expecting the airport to be operational on Poila Baisakh (Bengali New Year, on April 14 next year)”. Construction of the runway, passenger terminal and air traffic control building is almost complete but equipment is yet to be installed. BAPL is in talks with all major domestic airlines to bring them here; the first flight is likely to be on the Durgapur-Delhi route.
However, much of the work remains and the high tension lines across the runway is a major area of concern. “The transmission towers are located in the project area and close to the runway. The transmission lines pass across the runway. They need to be shifted before flights can take off. The civil aviation ministry will not give us clearance to operate flights from the Andal airport unless the towers are shifted,” a BAPL official said. The official also informed that both PGCL (Power Grid Corporation limited) and the DVC (Damodar Valley Corporation) have refused to shoulder the expense of shifting the high tension lines.
The Singapore government at the inaugural function yesterday requested the Bengal administration to help remove impediments in shifting electricity towers from near the Andal airport runway.
Lim Liang Song, the CEO of the Singapore government-owned Changi Airports International that is a stakeholder in promoter Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited (BAPL), sought the help of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and chief secretary Sanjay Mitra for a speedy resolution of the problem.
Six high-tension towers of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) and the West Bengal State Electricity Transmission Co Ltd are coming in the way of the completion of the airport, which is part of the Rs 10,000-crore Airport City project near Durgapur.
Partha Ghosh, the founder-director and CEO of BAPL, said the company had appointed Larsen & Toubro to shift the towers. “L&T has to complete the relocation by December 15” he said.
BAPL needs about 70 acres for the relocation. The company is willing to purchase the land directly from the owners. But a section of landowners has refused to give up their plots.
Government role in getting the 70 acres for the tower relocation will be limited not only because of the recently passed land acquisition bill that bars forcible acquisition but also because of the fact that Mamata Banerjee government has time and again been struggling with the issue. Now it is to be seen how Mamata Banerjee and her government succeed in wiping out the last hurdle to make the project operational.