By bappaditya paul
The Centre has begun a fresh move to develop the existing smaller airports in West Bengal after chief minister Mamata Banerjee recently made a strong pitch for it. A comprehensive plan is being worked out.
Union civil aviation secretary Nasim Zaidi will hold a meeting with top officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI) in New Delhi tomorrow to discuss the matter.
According to AAI sources, the agenda of the meeting is development of airports in West Bengal and infrastructure development of three smaller airports ~ Cooch Behar, Malda and Behala ~ is likely to figure prominently.
The AAI chairman, Mr VP Agarwal, and all the four whole-time board members of AAI ~ Mr S Raheja (planning), Mr V Somasundaram (air navigation system and finance), Mr G K Chaukiyal (operations) and Mr K K Jha (human resources), will attend the meeting.
West Bengal, at present, has seven airports ~ Cooch Behar, Malda, Behala Kolkata, Bagdogra, Balurghat and Asansol. But other than Kolkata, Bagdogra and Cooch Behar, none of the remaining four is operational at the moment for lack of necessary infrastructure for flight operations.
The chief minister during a meeting with Union civil aviation minister Ajit Singh in the city on 30 April had requested him to take steps for reviving the smaller airports.
Cooch Behar airport was renovated last year at a cost of Rs 32 crore, but it witnessed operations of an 18-seater Dronier aircraft to Kolkata only for a brief period from September to October 2011.
With operations of smaller aircrafts being found unviable, the state government now wants the AAI to augment the infrastructure at Cooch Behar for running of medium sized aircrafts such as the ATR 72.
“This can be done only after expanding the runway at Cooch Behar which at present is 1070 metre and also by upgrading the ground navigation facilities. For the runway expansion, a large culvert will have to be built over the river Mora Torsha. For this and other necessary infrastructure, we have prepared a Rs 35-crore project proposal and viability of the same will be discussed in tomorrow’s meet,” said a senior official attached to AAI’s Eastern Region.
It likely, the AAI board will approve the project and then forward the same to the Planning Commission for its clearance, the officer said. Apart from Cooch Behar, there is an Rs 80-100-crore revival plan for Malda and a Rs 40-crore over-all development plan for the Behala Airport, which are also likely to come up for discussion.
(The author is on the staff of The Statesman, India. This report first appeared in The Statesman on 10 May 2012.)