Harjap Singh Aujla
In an interview in the month of June 2010 with Shweta Rajpal Kohli, the financial reporter of NDTV 24X7 News Channel, the Minister of Civil Aviation Mr. Praful Patel was seen lamenting the fact that New Delhi International Airport has already overtaken the Mumbai International Airport as the number one air transportation hub in India. He was grudging that the financial capital of the country Mumbai, was suffering due to the government’s policy of inaction as far as some of the permits for the construction of a new airport in Navi Mumbai are concerned.
On the contrary the fact is that the location of the Navi Mumbai Airport is in the middle of an environmentally sensitive area. One river has to be drastically realigned against the principles of natural flow. In addition, at least two thousand fully grown trees are to be axed. Over the past half a century, this particular area has already suffered enormous environmental obliteration and degradation. The government cannot simply afford more ecological damage in this area.
Of course Mr. Patel has to worry about the premier airport in his own state, because he gets elected from this state, but Mumbai’s loss is not totally due to extra attention being paid to the national capital New Delhi. Mumbai has in fact lost quite a bit of international traffic due to the emergence of three big international airports at Hyderabad, Bangalore and Chennai. Earlier on all these potentially viable airports were served as a primary hub by the Southern India’s only gateway Mumbai International Airport.
Coming to the North, ten years ago, the New Delhi Airport was handling 40% traffic originating from and destined to the border districts of Punjab. Five years ago, Delhi’s share of Punjab’s traffic fell to about 30%, because Amritsar Airport took away a part of this traffic. Even now New Delhi Airport is handling about 25% traffic originating from Punjab’s western districts. This too is due to the operation of important airlines like Qatar Airways from Amritsar International Airport, which take away a part of Punjab traffic to Europe and America.
Going by the statistics, the ultimate potential of Amritsar International Airport is still not being realized. This airport is capable of handling daily Boeing 777 ER flights to Vancouver and thrice weekly flights to Los Angeles and San Francisco. There are enough Punjabi NRI’s hailing from the districts of Amritsar, Tarntaran, Gurdaspur, Hoshiarpur, Kapurthala, Ferozepore, Jalandhar and Moga, to fill daily flights from and to Vancouver as well as alternate day flights to the two major cities of California. Of late more and more Punjabis are settling in the Canadian Province of Alberta. Both Calgary and Edmonton areas now are serving as the homes to in access of fifty thousand Punjabis. Soon these cities will also be able to generate enough traffic on alternate day basis for Amritsar International Airport. The problem is that India’s powerful Minister of Civil Aviation Mr. Praful Patel, for reasons best known to him, is not favorably inclined towards Amritsar International Airport. He does not realize that Amritsar is also an Indian city and the growth of international air traffic in this city also contributes to the economy of India as a whole. Such narrow parochial considerations are impeding the progress of India.
Due to the recent deadly surge in Naxalite crimes on the important Calcutta – New Delhi – Amritsar trunk railway route states like Chhatisgarh, Jharkhand, fringe areas of West Bengal and some areas of Bihar, the air traffic between Calcutta and New Delhi as well as between Calcutta and Amritsar has increased substantially. The needs of Delhi – Calcutta air traffic are of course being adequately addressed, but the needs of Calcutta – Amritsar long haul route are not being paid adequate attention. In fact the traffic originating from Calcutta for Amritsar and Ludhiana is being off loaded at New Delhi Airport, from where most passengers are taking trains, only a few can find seats in the Delhi Amritsar flights. It is the duty of the Punjabi diaspora, based in Europe and North America to keep fighting for the interests of Amritsar International Airport through the electronic and print media at their disposal.
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