The ambitious plan to set up an air cargo terminal at the Jaiprakash Narayan International Airport in Patna is stuck in limbo for four years now as the state government and Airports Authority of India (AAI) are locked in a land acquisition tussle.
The state government and AAI signed an MoU in 2009 to develop the terminal near Patna airport to facilitate timely transportation of perishable commodities, including fruits and vegetables, in and out of the state. In January, the state government agreed to transfer 6.37 acres on the western side of the airport for developing the air cargo terminal but asked for Rs 114.66 crore for transfer of the same, which AAI refused to grant.
Senior state government officials say AAI is very restrained when it comes to paying for development of the state’s civil aviation sector. “The state land revenue reforms department fixed the land transfer rate, based on prevailing market rates in Patna. Land, in any case, is not given free. But AAI does not want to pay a single penny. Thus, the state government cannot be blamed for lack of progress,” said a senior civil aviation official.
He cited another occasion when AAI didn’t pay for land transfer. “To extend the Patna airport runway, AAI and state government had initially agreed to contribute 50 per cent each for acquisition of 100 acres of land. However, AAI later deferred and the civil aviation department had to pay Bihar Industrial Development Authority (BIADA) the entire amount last year.”
But sources at AAI claimed that across the country the general practice is for them to pay for infrastructure development while the state government pays only for land. It is due to the state government’s non-cooperative attitude that the air cargo unit was yet to come up in Patna, an AAI source said.
Industry bodies, including Bihar Industries Association (BIA) and Bihar Chamber of Commerce and Industry have time and again emphasised on the urgent need for air cargo facilities.
“Air cargo facility is extremely necessary to support agro-based and food processing industries. In the absence of such a terminal in Patna, fresh products from the state are transported to Calcutta and Delhi first and only a small fraction gets exported due to very short shelf life of such products. The prospect of exporting litchi and mango from Bihar is very high, thus air cargo service has very high potential here,” said P. K. Agarwal, president, Bihar Chamber of Commerce and Industries.
BIA, too, has hailed the demand. “We have repeatedly been asking for an air cargo unit in Patna. Bihar is an agro-based economy but in the absence of air cargo facility, it’s not possible to sell fresh produce in the outside market. Export is thus limited to markets in nearby states and not far-off big cities like Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore, where good price could be fetched. Moreover, there is hardly any export of agri-products from the state,” BIA president KPS Kesari said.
Experts also attributed poor export of agri-produce from the state to lack of an air cargo terminal. “Only 2-3 percent of litchi from the state is exported, those too via Delhi and Mumbai. Air cargo facility would largely benefit farmers as the state can reach fruits like banana, mango and litchi and vegetables like pointed gourd (parwal) and other seasonal vegetables to bigger markets and fetch good prices,” said Vishal Nath, director, National Research Centre For Litchi, Muzaffarpur.