New Delhi/Calcutta, Aug. 8: A move to make Calcutta the hub for international flights to Southeast and East Asia is on the radar screen of the civil aviation ministry.
The government plans to spend Rs 94 crore over the next three years to augment and modernise the cargo complex and international departure section at the airport.
The move follows a round of lobbying by Left leaders. The CPM has been trying for some time to get the government interested in the plan, an effort that seems to have succeeded at a time when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has just returned from Thailand after signing an agreement that will lead to freer trade.
“Chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has been asking the Congress-led government for the past two months to give importance to the airport. We are happy that the government has agreed to our proposal,” Anil Biswas, the CPM state secretary, said.
A Rs 150-crore modernisation project was, in fact, cleared by the BJP-led government about three years ago to replace the terminal building with an aluminium-and-glass structure. However, two civil aviation ministers (Shahnawaz Hussain and Rajiv Pratap Rudy) came and went, and with general elections round the corner, the project was stalled.
“The project in its totality has been cleared. Work to construct new cargo as well as terminal buildings will start in a few days. The contract has just been handed over to a Delhi-based firm (New Era Construction) and they have also carried out a feasibility project,” an official of the Airport Authority of India said.
The government estimates that eventually it will have to spend about Rs 1,000 crore in modernising the airport. At least a part of the money will come from privatising some of the facilities, such as shopping malls and ground handling.
It will be interesting to see how the Left, which has opposed privatisation of Delhi and Mumbai airports, with a government in place in Calcutta reacts to this proposal.