Land hurdle for Bihta take-off

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By Piyush Kumar Tripathi
  • Published 12.03.15

Willingness on part of the state government holds the key to turn the Bihta airbase into the future international airport.

Cost of land acquisition continues to remain a bone of contention between the Centre and the state on the issue of development of the airbase as a full-fledged civil airport.

Land acquisition apart, the state government would also need to look after development of a number of utilities, which are mandatory for modern airports across the country. Aviation experts claimed that the biggest challenge for the state authorities would be development of a dedicated expressway for the proposed airport between Patna and Bihta, 40km southwest of the capital.

Like airports in cities, including Delhi and Mumbai, the Bihta airbase would need modes of mass rapid transport systems like Metro or bus rapid transport system to be connected with Patna. "Connectivity of Bihta airbase with Patna is a serious issue and it would require sincere approach from the state government. Transit time is considered very serious criterion in civil aviation, as it is the biggest factor in determining passenger traffic over the years. The state government would be necessarily required to develop a dedicated corridor - four-lane or six-lane expressway - for vehicular traffic coming to the airport," said Atul Singh, executive director, Centre for Aviation, Policy, Safety and Research.

A senior official in the civil aviation directorate also agreed to the fact that an 8-10km expressway, which can be also elevated, would be required to be constructed between Danapur railway station and Bihta. "In Hyderabad, GMR group with support from Hyderabad Development Authority, developed a dedicated flyway between Rajiv Gandhi International Airport at Shamshabad and Hyderabad city to provide unhindered traffic coming to the airport," said Atul.

Mahesh Sharma, minister of state for civil aviation, told the Rajya Sabha in a written reply on Tuesday that Airports Authority of India (AAI) had proposed to develop the Indian Air Force (IAF) airport at Bihta as new airport for international operations and taken up the matter with the ministry of defence and the Bihar government.

The AAI has also sought additional land of 600 acres for phase-I and 790 acres for phase-II in lieu of existing Patna airport.

Land acquisition, however, seems to be the primary and biggest concern for commencing civil operations from Bihta airbase. "Land acquisition is a tricky issue in a state like Bihar, where land is scarce due to high population density. As per rough estimates, the cost of acquiring 600 acres of land at Bihta might come anywhere over and above Rs 500 crore. This would be a whopping sum for the state government to arrange, especially in context of the prevailing land scarcity situation," said a senior official in the state civil aviation directorate.

The AAI and state government have faced such situation on the land acquisition issue in the past as well. For instance, the issue over transfer of 6.37 acres of land belonging to special task force (STF) located on the western side of Jayaprakash Narayan International Airport continues to remain unresolved in spite of the cabinet giving its nod for its transfer to the AAI on January 15, 2013. The AAI had refused to buy this land by paying Rs 114.66 crore as fixed by the state government. "As per the general policy in practice across the country, state governments usually give the land and the AAI spends money for developing the requisite infrastructure," said a senior official of AAI.

#Even the air force has given its approval to start civil operation from Bihta. In return, it is asking for defence operations from Gaya airport. Civil aviation experts termed the concept of running commercial operations from a defence airbase "civil enclave in defence airport". The existing airbase at Bihta is spread over an area of around 900 acres, which is almost around the size of Gaya airport, spread over 975acres.