ANDAL, 27 JUNE: The country&’s first proposed "Airport City" here today came on the aviation map with the introduction of passenger helicopter services.
Pawan Hans Limited, the national helicopter company, following an MoU signed with the state government in March, today launched the services and the first helicopter landed at the Airport City&’s runway here after a 42-minute trip from Kolkata. The state transport secretary, additional chief secretary (transport), and Airport City officials were on board the aircraft. But the launch of the new helicopter service ~ six years after the Airport City project MoU was signed ~ did not pass without criticism.
Mr Bansogopal Chowdhury, CPI-M MP representing Asansol said: “We don’t know why an airport city is required for just helicopter services. It’s just an eye-wash and the company has a hidden motive to inflate its realty business.”
Local residents opposing the acquisition of their lands for the project also gathered near the runway to stage a protest. The Airport City, tagged as ‘Aerotropolis’ ~ a Rs 10,000 crore private venture ~ was first proposed in 2006, and in 2007 a MOU between the Civil Aviation ministry, the state government and Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited – a specialty vehicle for the purpose ~ was signed in which Singapore&’s Changi Airport International entered into equity participation in 2010.
The project has consistently been facing roadblocks causing successive failures to meet the deadline for launch of flight service operations since 2010.
The initially declared requirement of 3000 acres for the project was gradually was reduced to 2400 acres, in view of the continued uproar against land acquisition in Andal.
The WBIDC, engaged as a key land procurement player. has also been accommodated in the project as a stakeholder. The Airport City authorities however are yet to get hold of some 200 acres required to set up a road-link with the NH2.
Residents of Andal, Bhadur, Dubchururia and Dignala mouzas today assembled beside the runway and shouted slogans withdrawal of the project.
Villagers like Mr Lalchand Roy, who possesses 20 bighas in proposed project area, Mr Sanjoy Garain, possessing 18 bighas, accompanied by many others were among those gathered to protest against the flight operations. “They are grabbing our land. Our chief minister has always been struggling against such land-grabbing but her officials are now accompanying the company that is eating up our prime land,” one of the protesters said.
Incidentally, last week, while addressing a poll rally near Andal, Miss Banerjee herself had announced that helicopter services from the airport would be introduced soon.
Mr Alapan Banerjee, the state transport secretary said today: “Durgapur-Asansol has been included as prime locations for helicopter services in the MoU with Pawan Hans. So it was flagged off today. We have got no idea when the regular aeroplane services would begin from Andal.” Mr Partha Ghosh, MD, BAPL did not respond when asked about the matter.