Revival of the outdated airfields in Bihar

first_imgGoats and buffaloes routinely patrol the Bhagalpur airport runwayThe popular perception of Bihar is of a state where snails move faster than trains and a 100 metre of bitumened roads without potholes is considered an expressway. But the state’s transportation industry can take heart if recent “discoveries” are anything to,Goats and buffaloes routinely patrol the Bhagalpur airport runwayThe popular perception of Bihar is of a state where snails move faster than trains and a 100 metre of bitumened roads without potholes is considered an expressway. But the state’s transportation industry can take heart if recent “discoveries” are anything to go by. The state Government recently “stumbled” upon 21 airfields, most of them over half-a-century-old that now lie abandoned. Some of these were built during World War II and the Chinese aggression of 1962. The euphoria created by this “discovery” is unmatched and has prompted both Chief Minister Nitish Kumar and his deputy Sushil Modi to say that these have sparked off hopes for the state’s economic revival.The Government is so excited that it asked the officials to draw up plans to revive these airfields and link them to Patna and metros like Kolkata, Mumbai and Delhi. It also wants to introduce an air taxi network to connect the Buddhist circuits of Patna, Rajgir, Bodhgaya, Vaishali (Hajipur), Sarnath (Varanasi) and Kushinagar. The Government has plans to use the airfield to review and monitor development activities too. Of the 21 airfields, three are under the control of the Indian Air Force, five have kachcha runways, nine have been classified as “abandoned”, while the rest, though have metalled runways, are without any navigational, meteorological or technical support. Most airfields have no boundary walls, which means that incoming aircraft-as and when that happens-will have to avoid the ubiquitous cows and buffaloes. But Captain Deepak Kumar Singh, joint director, Bihar Civil Aviation Department, says the Government has agreed to convert all kachcha runways into metalled ones and fence the airstrips.advertisementLalu built a helipad and sports complexNot long ago, the then Union Minister for Civial Aviation, Syed Shahnawaz Hussain had helped develop the airport at Bodhgaya into an international one. The airport, which now attracts lakhs of Buddhists annually, is bigger than the one in Patna and is directly linked with Sri Lanka, Singapore and Thailand. Other air fields at Bhagalpur, Muzaffarpur and Begusarai continue to rot though Hussain is using his rapport with the current Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel to transform the Bhagalpur strip into an airport capable of handling 70-seater ATR. Situated midway between Kolkata and Patna, it makes sense to develop the airport, which could then be linked with other smaller airfields in the region. Besides, Hussain wants to create a “Silk Route” to connect Bhagalpur (famous for silk) with Varanasi and Delhi.Chief Minister Nitish Kumar feels many airports died an unnatural death due to sheer neglect. Samastipur is just one of them. Surrounded by a number of buildings, the airport has a 3,000-feet runway and was built in 1983. Since then, the airfield is mostly used during elections, when politicians descend from the skies in their choppers. According to Building Construction Department’s Assistant Engineer R.P. Singh, the runway has been reduced to a couple of helipads. This is in contrast to the one at Chhapra, which has a 3,000-ft long metalled runway. Not surprising since the MP who represents the constituency is Railways Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. But like most other airfields in the state, it springs to life only on the odd VVIP visit or during elections.Nitish Kumar,CMDuring the decade-and-half long Lalu-Rabri regime, some of the airports used to witness sporadic takeoffs and landings, thanks to their propensity to hop on to state government planes and helicopters on “social justice” tours. Two helicopters (Lalu called them Uran-khatola, meaning flying cots) belonging to Pawan Hans were kept on 24×7 duty for Lalu. The state Government has three small airplanes, two of them beechcrafts. One was purchased when the state saw a fairly long spell of Governor’s rule. Only when a popular government came to power did the state realise the enormity of the scandal involved in the plane’s purchase. The comptroller and auditor general in his report pointed out: “The Government failed to realise value for money as it purchased a phased-out model of aircraft at the cost of Rs 13.23 crore without inviting competitive bids when a substantially upgraded model of the same was available at a marginally higher cost”.The Nitish Kumar Government, however, chose to ignore the report. Besides, by the standards of scams in Bihar, Rs 13.23 crore seemed like a pittance. As politicians cutting across party lines grouped together to push the scandal under the carpet, the state Government has vowed to develop neglected airfields in the belief that this will turn around Bihar’s commercial and development fortunes. Welcome Aboard.advertisementlast_img

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *