Farmers to decide airport fate

The cabinet decision to acquire 100 acres for Gaya International Airport might spark a fresh round of protests from villagers not ready to part with their lands.

Officials of the Airports Authority of India (AAI), however, think it a positive step towards modernisation and expansion of the airport, which witnesses several international flights taking off to destinations in Southeast Asia. There is a plan for extension of the existing 7,500ft runway of Gaya airport to 9,000ft for which additional land is required.

The main hurdle behind the delay in expansion of the Gaya airport is denial of land by villagers of Bishunganj (towards western end of the runway). The state land acquisition department had sanctioned Rs 7.26 crore in July 2011 to be paid as compensation against the land acquisition.

Besides the nod for land acquisition, the cabinet also granted Rs 25 crore for infrastructure development of the airport. Gaya airport director Samar Kumar Biswas said unless the land was not handed over to the AAI, no further development plans could be chalked out.

"We are waiting for details of the state government plan for infrastructure development here. In absence of land acquired for runway extension, we are unable to bring funds from the AAI that can be added to the state government grants of Rs 25 crore. After the runway is extended up to 9,000ft, all type of aircraft, including wide body ones, can be operated from here. With the existing facilities, we have operated Haj flights for 40 days this year without a glitch. On an average, five international flights are being operated every day at present. Of course, passenger amenities have improved at the airport but a lot more is required," he said.

Sources said because of delay in the land acquisition and runway extension, the airport is incurring a financial loss of around Rs 2 crore every month. The airport has failed to earn revenue in proportion to the existing infrastructure, including the working strength of employees. The flights are operated from here only between September and March. During rest of the year, there is no scheduled flight operation although some charter planes land here.

The airport needs to be linked to Bangalore, Mumbai, Chennai and other cities. Air India has introduced a Gaya-Delhi flight but that too is not operated throughout the year. During the ongoing tourist season (September to March) Air India is operating Delhi-Gaya-Varanasi-Delhi, Yangon-Gaya-Calcutta, Calcutta-Gaya-Yangon flights. Besides, Thai airways's Bangkok-Gaya-Varanasi-Bangkok, Myanmar Airlines's Yangon-Gaya-Yangon, Druk Air's Paro-Gaya-Bangkok flights are also being operated from here.

Gaya district land acquisition officer Prabhat Kumar Jha told The Telegraph that after the villagers of Bishunganj verbally denied to hand over their plots, notice was served to 297 villagers. However, the villagers had claimed they did not receive the notice. The matter was reported to the state land acquisition department director, Hukum Singh Meena.

Following the order by the land acquisition department director on July 5, 2012, the amount of around Rs 7.26 crore allotted for compensation to the villagers against land acquisition had been deposited in the state government treasury on July 16 this year, Jha said. The state land acquisition department has identified land in four villages ' Hario and Dubhal (towards eastern end of the runway), Bishunganj (towards western end) and Charova ' around the Gaya airport.

Around 28.91 acres ' 5.52 acres in Hario, 7.8 acres in Charova and 15.59 acres ' in Dubhal have already been acquired and a compensation of Rs 7.79 crore (22 beneficiaries), Rs 1.23 crore (18 beneficiaries) and Rs 4.07 crore (48 beneficiaries), respectively, have already been paid to the owners in 2010. However, the villagers of Bishunganj are demanding better price than the one fixed by the government. It seems the main reason behind the delay in acquisition for airport expansion.

The villagers of Bishunganj also formed the Mazdoor Kisan Sangharsh Samitee. The MKSS president, Naresh Chaudhary, said they had filed an objection petition with the land acquisition department to revise the rate of compensation, which is around Rs 48,000 per cottah. Villagers are demanding compensation at the rate of Rs 5 lakh per cottah.

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