Airports are the latest political battleground. Or, so feel some states.
As airports are being constructed and opened without any glitch in Congress-ruled states like Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh, opposition-ruled states are seeing a pattern in their projects. Though projects are awarded and airports are constructed in these states, inordinate delays are making some states cry foul. Worse still, what’s standing in the way of many of these projects is a ribbon!
Take, for instance, Bhatinda in Punjab. An airport has been constructed and the infrastructure is in place here, but it is yet to be formally inaugurated.
The state government has held several rounds of meetings with civil aviation minister Ajit Singh.
“But every time we meet Singh, he gives us a new date. The Centre probably thinks the state will take credit for the airport, so they are buying time. There’s no other reason for the delay,” says Naresh Gujaral, Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) MP.
The state and the Centre had spent Rs15 crore and Rs30 crore, respectively, for the Bhatinda project. Though it received final clearance from the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in August 2012, not a single flight has taken off or landed here.
“The infrastructure set up at Bhatinda is biting the dust. Time and again, we have been hearing about things being stolen from the airport. The airport is simply rotting,” Gujaral said.
Ditto with the Chandigarh
project. For the international airport here, the infrastructure, including immigration and customs, is ready. But the ribbon is yet to be cut.
In BJP-ruled Madhya Pradesh, the story repeats in Indore and Bhopal. The two airports have been accorded international status, but the government is yet to give the green signal to any operator.
“We have brought down the Value-Added Tax (VAT) on aviation fuel from 23% to 4% to encourage regional airlines. But till the time those in Delhi give permission to the operators, there’s nothing the state can do,” said a close aide to Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan.
On the contrary, Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra have only pleasant tales to tell.
Maharashtra has 29 airports. That former civil aviation minister and Nationalist Congress Party leader Praful Patel is from the state is no coincidence. He has cleared airport projects in several districts in the state.
Rajasthan has 19 airports, with Kishangarh being the latest. The foundation stone for this airport was laid by none other than UPA (United Progressive Alliance) chairperson Sonia Gandhi in September.
Similarly, the civil aviation ministry has given the green signal for many regional operators in those southern states where the Congress wield the power.
The aviation ministry, however, claims there’s no politics. The ministry says it’s only a coincidence that some states are getting more projects.
“It’s wrong to give a political colour to the aviation business. There are a lot of technical and safety procedures involved. A lot also depends on how much the states co-operate with the ministry,” a senior official said.