Patna, Aug. 8: Chief minister Nitish Kumar today firmly put the onus of the Jai Prakash Narayan International Airport on the Centre, saying it would be the Union government’s “failure” if the facility closes down.
Nitish, who had maintained silence as the cloud deepened over the fate of the airport, said his government had done all there was to be done in complying with directives laid down by aviation regulator DGCA.
The chief minister has exchanged letters with Union civil aviation minister Ajit Singh. The two spoke today and the central minister is understood to have agreed to send a team to Patna to study the ground realities.
“I received a letter from the Union minister (Ajit Singh) on August 3 and I replied to it on August 5. This morning, the Union minister telephoned me and I told him that he should first go through my letter,” Nitish said. “I do not understand why this perception is gaining ground that the state government is not complying with the directives of the DGCA and AAI (Airports Authority of India). If any airport closes down, it’s the failure of the central government.”
Nitish said the civil aviation minister had agreed to send a team to Patna shortly. The chief minister has even offered to take Ajit Singh on a helicopter survey to see for himself the steps taken by the government.
Effective from August 16, the revised length of the Patna airport runway would be 1,141 metres instead of the earlier 1,677m. Similarly, the runway from the Patna zoo end would henceforth be 1,289m instead of the earlier 1,820m. AAI officials say the minimum runway length required for Airbus 320 and Boeing 737 aircraft to land is 1,540m and 1,790m, respectively — anything less than this makes landing dangerous. AAI has found that the airport had 101 obstructions on either side of the runway, which made it hazardous for landing.
In his letter to Nitish dated August 3, Ajit Singh has said the Patna airport is considered to be the most critical in terms of flight operations due to its short runway and obstacles on the landing approach funnel. He appealed to the chief minister to look into the matter and warned that the DGCA may be constrained to stop operations of bigger planes.
In his reply dated August 5, Nitish has maintained that the government is fully conscious of the need for safe operations of aircraft from Patna airport and requested the minister to postpone such action in view of the steps taken by the state.
Nitish said chief secretary Navin Kumar had informed him today that the DGCA directives on removing the obstacles had been complied with. “There are just a couple of trees left in the Sanjay Gandhi Biological Park which should be completed by tomorrow. I have no reason not to believe the chief secretary,” the chief minister said.
Nitish said the government had complied with guidelines laid down by the regulator and asserted that the Centre had to also bear responsibility. “There are some private constructions for which the DGCA will have to first issue orders. Another objection pertains to railways and this is a matter between two Union ministries,” Nitish said.
“When Praful Patel was Union civil aviation minister, he gave me a map prepared by his ministry for Patna airport that suggested certain rectifications which would permanently remove the problem of obstacles. I came with the map and asked the Patna district magistrate to see if it could be implemented. Within a single day, the DM said it could be done. But the civil aviation ministry backed out,” he said.
He said the proposal for an airport in Nalanda was pending with the monitoring committee for Nalanda University. “Establishing a new airport in Bihar is very difficult. We will be asked to acquire 1,500 acres of land. Presuming that the cost would be Rs 5 crore per acre, the amount for only land would be Rs 7,500 crore. From where would we get this sort of money.”
Nitish then turned the gun on the civil aviation ministry for not using the existing facilities at Gaya, Darbhanga and Purnea airports. “Flights from Gaya to Delhi used to be fully loaded. There will be passengers even for Purnea,” he remarked.