| The Malda airport building; and (right) the area from where soil has been carted away. Pictures by Surajit Roy
Large amount of loose soil is being trucked away from the airports land here. The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has complained several times to the district administration about the theft.
The soil is being used to fill up water bodies to support largescale real estate development in Malda.
The British-era Malda airport, which the AAI is trying to revive after it closed down in 1992, when floodwaters collected on the ground, requires some major problems to be resolved before it becomes functional again.
It needs a bigger runway as several parts of the airport grounds have been encroached upon.
Airport officer Kamal Majumdar said the soil theft is taking place from the area within the boundary wall that had been erected to prevent encroachment.
He said a temple had also come up on airport land.
The airport is in Malda town, in ward 25. The airport, where Vayudoot aircraft plied during 1984-85, supported daily flights on the Dum Dum-Malda-Balurghat-Bagdogra-Cooch Behar route. The service stopped as it was not economically viable.
I have filed a complaint with the Englishbazar police and I have also sent copies to the administration. Efforts are on to resume flights from the airport, but we are yet to get any response from the administration, said Majumdar.
To revive the airport, the AAI had asked for an additional 55 acres from the state government.
The current length of the runway has shrunk to 3,500 feet because of encroachments and new construction, when a minimum of 4,500 feet is required.
The encroachment is also vertical. After the airport closed down, tall buildings up to six or seven storeys, as well as mobile phone towers came up in the area. High-tension electricity wires run through the air above the airport. These are not conducive to flights.
Majumdar said if the runway is extended, ATR 72 aircraft can be easily operated from Malda airport. But acquisition of land is also a problem as is encroachment. The AAI wanted the extra land to the west of the airport, where 212 families live, as the encroachments are on the east. But the government is not in favour of taking over this land from the families.
Now there are big holes in the ground because of theft.
Rs 75 crore have been allocated but if we have huge craters to fill up because of the theft there will be further delay, he said.
Sambhu Mardi, supervisor at the airport, said the soil was being carted away from the western side of the airport. Over 200 truckloads of soil have been carted away by unscrupulous people who sell them to real estate developers as landfills, he said.
District magistrate Archana said she had asked the land and land revenue department to look into the matter.
We have asked the police to stop the soil being transported from airport land, she said.
Malda police superintendent Jayanta Pal said he had received a complaint from the AAI.
I have asked the Englishbazar police to look into the matter, he said.