Mamata Banerjee picks up a piece of paper as Singapore high commissioner Lim Thuan Kuan (to her right), Changi Airports International CEO Lim Liang Song and panchayat minister Subrata Mukherjee look on at the Andal programme on Thursday. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
Durgapur, Sept. 19: The Singapore government today requested the Bengal administration to help remove impediments in shifting electricity towers from near the Andal airport runway.
Lim Liang Song, the CEO of the Singapore government-owned Changi Airports International that is a stakeholder in promoter Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited (BAPL), sought the help of chief minister Mamata Banerjee and chief secretary Sanjay Mitra for a speedy resolution of the problem.
Six high-tension towers of the Damodar Valley Corporation (DVC) and the West Bengal State Electricity Transmission Co Ltd are coming in the way of the completion of the airport, which is part of the Rs 10,000-crore Airport City project near Durgapur. At least two towers are on the runway and have to be removed immediately.
Partha Ghosh, the founder-director and CEO of BAPL, said the company had appointed Larsen & Toubro to shift the towers. “L&T has to complete the relocation by December 15. I am hoping the airport will be operational by Poila Boisakh (mid-April),” he said.
BAPL needs about 70 acres for the relocation. The company is willing to purchase the land directly from the owners. But a section of landowners has refused to give up their plots.
Government role in getting the 70 acres for the tower relocation will be limited because of the recently passed land bill that bars forcible acquisition and the state’s hands-off land policy. Industry observes, however, said the government could use its good offices to ensure that the landowners took informed decisions.
“The transmission towers are located in the project area and close to the runway. The transmission lines pass across the runway. They need to be shifted before flights can take off. The civil aviation ministry will not give us clearance to operate flights from the Andal airport unless the towers are shifted,” a BAPL official said.
“We need around 70 acres to shift the towers but the landowners are not willing to sell their plots to us,” he added.
|The transmission towers and lines near the runway. Picture by Sanjoy Chattopadhyaya
The Airport City project is nearing completion. The fresh deadline for the airport to become operational is April next year. The 2,800m runway, air-traffic control building and the passenger terminal are almost ready, although equipment is yet to be installed.
A private helicopter service operator has tied up with BAPL to use the runway for services between Durgapur and Calcutta.
The erstwhile Left Front government had handed over 1,818 acres in phases since 2009 to BAPL, which engaged Simplex Infrastructures Limited in 2010 to build the airport on 650 acres. Housing projects, a commercial hub, a science and technology park, an IT Park, a logistics hub and health care and education infrastructure are supposed to come up on the rest of the land.
Then industries minister Nirupam Sen, who hails from Burdwan, had supported the project. Sen was invited to today’s naming ceremony for the airport but he was not present.
BAPL officials said they were trying to convince the landowners that shifting the towers was important for the project.
“If we do not get adequate land to shift the transmission towers, we will consider taking the cables underground. The matter is being discussed. We will apply for the final-stage DGCA approval after resolving the issue. We are hopeful,” a BAPL spokesperson said.
A section of the landowners alleged that BAPL was not interested in completing the airport and instead, the company was inviting real estate developers to build housing projects.
The landowners, led by the SUCI, have organised themselves under a save-farm land committee, which said the project was yet to take off even though the acquisition started in 2007.
“The Left government took our land in phases since 2007 to set up an airport but BAPL has no interest in completing it. Instead, they are inviting real estate developers to set up housing projects here. Why will we allow them to do real estate business on our land? What kind of employment will be generated from such a project? Is the airport meant for helicopter services only? We have lost interest in the project and will not give our land to shift the towers,” said Dona Goswami, an SUCI district committee member leading the villagers.
The Trinamul government had initial misgivings that the airport project could turn out to be a real estate venture.
The local block development officer held several inconclusive meetings with BAPL and the landowners.
A DVC official said two transmission lines had to be relocated. The other transmission line belongs to the West Bengal State Electricity Distribution Company Limited.
BAPL officials had informed DVC about a year ago that it was planning to take the lines underground. BAPL had said it would bear the cost.
“However, about six months ago, BAPL officials informed us that they might shift the towers as the underground route would be costlier. We are yet to receive any communication from BAPL after that,” a DVC official said.
DVC officials said BAPL would have to acquire the land for the relocation. The officials added that the central utility would seek to know the technical aspects of the relocation and the schedule to plan a phased shutdown.
It would take at least three months to relocate the towers after the land is acquired.