Bangalore: The Union government is showing undue haste in opening the new international airport in the city on 23 May, at a time when the Karnataka high court is on vacation and cannot hear a public interest litigation that pleads against closing the old airport, says a citizen’s body.
Much awaited: Passengers at the HAL-run airport’s waiting lounge. The new airport will be operational from 23 May, Bial announced
The citizen’s organization, Bangalore City Connect Foundation (BCCF), has also pointed out that the state is under Central rule and is currently electing a government in a three-phase poll, the results of which are due on 26 May.
The Bangalore International Airport Ltd (Bial) announced on Friday that the new airport it has built will become operational from 23 May, following a formal approval by the Union civil aviation ministry.
This means that the older airport, run by state-owned aircraft maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL), will no longer operate flights from that date, as per a “concession agreement” the government signed with Bial in June 2004.
BCCF says closing the decades-old airport is against public interest as it would affect investment and employment in India’s Silicon City. The citizen’s group says the concession agreement should be renegotiated because air traffic to the city has grown nearly four times since it was signed.
BCCF member V. Ravichander says closing the older airport was not part of the terms in the global tender that Karnataka government had floated. It was inserted later, he maintains.
“The citizens’ interest should be protected. A private monopoly is being supported,” alleges Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairperson of Biocon Ltd, India’s largest biotech firm, and a BCCF member.
Bial is a venture of Unique Airport that manages Zurich airport in Switzerland, Siemens AG, and India’s largest engineering firm Larsen and Toubro Ltd. The Karnataka government and the public sector Airports Authority of India hold minority stakes in the company.
“The IT (information technology) industry will be affected. Customers will not come,” says T.V. Mohandas Pai, director of Infosys Technologies Ltd, India’s second largest software exporter. “It will affect Bangalore’s economy in the next five years.”
Bial has revised passenger traffic projections to 13 million a year due to an aviation boom in the country, from five million a year that it estimated in 2004. The HAL airport handled around 10 million passengers in 2007.
Besides more air passengers, there are also connectivity concerns as the new airport on the city’s outskirts is not well connected to its centre.
Bangalore already faces huge traffic congestion, with vehicles moving at less than 10km per hour on arterial roads.
“You will add more congestion. It is best to have two airports,” says Vijay Chandru, a professor at the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore.