By Jaideep Sarin
Chandigarh–Opened with much fanfare as the city’s link to the world, the Chandigarh International Airport is under the scanner of the Punjab and Haryana High Court, with the Rs.1,400 crore ($210 million) facility failing to deliver to people in the City Beautiful and the region.
The civil aviation ministry, the Airports Authority of India (AAI), the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and other central government agencies are now facing a rap on the knuckles from the High Court, which is questioning the basis for spending so much money when no international operations have been started from here so far.
A high court bench, comprising Justice S.S. Saron and Justice Gurmit Ram, has even told the authorities concerned, especially the AAI, that it could even ask the CBI to probe the issue.
The high court came into the picture after the Mohali Industries Association knocked on its doors, saying there was more to it than met the eye.
“Forty percent of those living abroad are from this region. If Chandigarh airport is allowed to operate international flights, Delhi (airport) would lose business and hence the delay,” a lawyer for the petitioner contended before the high court recently.
Sources linked to the airport project told IANS that officials in Delhi did not want the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) airport, which gets a lot of passenger traffic from Punjab and this region, to lose its business if international flights started from Chandigarh.
They said that facilities for immigration, customs check and even security checks are yet to be put in place for international operations.
The authorities concerned have so far failed to give a committed deadline to the high court on when international flights will start from Chandigarh. The high court has been told that 48 airlines have been approached to start international flights, especially on the Dubai sector.
But only Indigo and SpiceJet have indicated that they could start operations later in 2016.
“What the high court is questioning is justified. The domestic terminal of the Chandigarh airport was renovated after spending a few hundred crore rupees just 2-3 years ago. If the international terminal, which is now catering to domestic operations, was to be built for Rs.1,400-crore, why was money earlier wasted on the domestic terminal? That terminal is lying useless now,” Manu Aggarwal, a realtor who has been waiting for the Chandigarh-Dubai flight to start, told IANS.
“The new terminal has no international flights in sight even in the coming few months. Who is accountable for the loss of public money?” he asked.
The new airport terminal got off to a flying start, literally, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated it last September.
The project, which was to connect the city to destinations like Dubai, Bangkok and Singapore, among other cities, did not take off. The new terminal is actually in Punjab’s Mohali town, 15 km from here.
The Punjab government, in its eagerness, had announced that the Chandigarh airport would see its first international flight taking off last October 19, but nothing happened. The next date speculated for the first flight was Nov 19 but that too did not materialise.
The Chandigarh airport, which is operated by the Indian Air Force (IAF) and is under the defence ministry, does not allow commercial flights to operate between 8 p m and 6 a m – the busiest time for international flights.
The airport, which is a forward base for the huge IL-76 transport aircraft fleet, is used by the IAF for air connectivity to Leh, Srinagar and other areas.
The airport operates around 25 domestic flights daily to destinations like Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Srinagar.
Though the northern region, especially Punjab, has a large number of international travellers and NRIs, they have to depend mainly on Delhi’s IGI airport.
In the region, only the Guru Ramdas Jee international airport at Amritsar caters to limited international flights. (IANS)