The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Mud & ‘lies’ fly in airport clash

Patna, Sept 5: The controversy over the Centre’s threat about Patna airport hotted up with chief minister Rabri Devi branding as “calculated lies” Shahnawaz Hussain’s statement that “intransigence” of the Bihar government could lead to its closure.

The civil aviation minister had taken the state by surprise by stating that “affairs are coming to a stage when the Patna airport would have to be closed down because of the intransigence of the state government”. Civil aviation director general H.S. Khosla also blamed the Bihar government for not helping “us create safe flying conditions at Patna airport”.

The ministry had said in a report that because of the lofty trees in the botanical garden the “effective length of the runway for the landing of the planes is reduced to 5,097 ft”.

Leaders of the ruling RJD today kept spitting venom at the Centre for maligning the state government and said there was no scope for expansion of the airport. The chief minister asked the civil aviation ministry to get an order from the Union ministry of environment and forests if it wanted more than 2,000 trees in the adjacent Sanjay Gandhi Botanical Gardens to be felled.

The state government had yesterday said it would not allow a tree to be trimmed. However, it softened its stand today, saying it was ready to prune the trees if it was informed through the proper channels and urged the Centre not to rush to the media.

Rabri and RJD president Laloo Prasad Yadav today went around the airport premises and inspected its boundary. They later discussed the issue at length with Bihar environment and forests minister Jagadanand Singh.

Singh said the real question is not whether the trees should be cut but whether the state headquarters or the airport should be shifted. “When the planners in Delhi faced this question over Safdarjung airport, they favoured the shifting of the airport,” pointed out Singh.

“In a meeting between the state government and former civil aviation minister Sharad Yadav it was decided that Patna airport be shifted to Bihita. Why is this not being done, though infrastructure for the airport already exists there'” asked the minister. He said the state government was ready to complete the 25-km road connecting the airport to Patna.

State government sources said the civil aviation ministry had asked for Dhobighat land, which was granted to the east and west of the airport.

However, the state government has firmly denied land that is part of a burial ground of minorities and a 17-acre stretch that is part of the botanical gardens.

“We have given them 80 per cent of the land that they wanted. Let them start the expansion programme before asking for more and give us some time,” said a state revenue department officer who had participated in a meeting with the aviation ministry officials last year.

State government officials say the aviation ministry should get the clearance — from the ministry of environment and forests — for handing over forest land.

The RJD termed Hussain’s threat to close down Patna airport an attempt to use the ministry for a vicious political campaign against the state government. “He has appeared as if with a sledgehammer to knock the image of the state to a shape of his liking,” Shakil Ahmed Khan, a senior minister.

Hussain, the RJD said, was resorting to this “risky political gimmick” after failing to open Gaya airport on September 3 as the work on the site is yet to be completed. “He is looking for an opportunity to hit back at the state government,” said Ramkirpal Yadav, a former MP and the party’s general secretary.

Hussain’s leaking of the civil aviation director general’s report to the press in which the state government was accused of not cooperating in “creating a safe flying conditions” and his comments like the “state government’s intransigence” are part of this elaborate gameplan, the RJD leaders said.

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