M A I N   N E W S

Rajasansi—nothing international about it
Varinder Walia
Tribune News Service

Rajasansi (Amritsar), January 28
Rajasansi International Airport is perhaps the only airport in the world where one can cross the operational area, runway included, to pay obeisance at a shrine in its vicinity, thus, posing a serious security threat.

Interestingly, the airport also has the dubious distinction of hosting five planes after their hijacking.

Though the airport is 'international' yet it can not stand comparison even with local bus stands of the developed countries, given its woefully inadequate facilities.

The international tourists, who come from the state-of-the-art airports, get poor impression of the state when they land at the Amritsar airport.

Non-AC arrival and departure halls, shabby canteens, lack of conveyor belts, trolleys and shopping arcades paint a gloomy picture of the ‘international’ airport.

The pilots have to rely on their judgment while landing here as the airport does not have Runway Visual Range (RVR) instrument, which has not been arranged by the Metrological Department even after more than four years of the airport being notified as international.

The passengers and their relatives have to face a lot of inconvenience as there are no electronic flight information display boards.

The airport is sans proper seating facilities or wash-rooms for those who come to receive their near and dear ones.

The 7-km journey from Ajanala bypass chowk to Rajasansi airport reminds one of the medieval times as there is no provision of street lights on either side of the road.

While almost 50 flights a week, from different destinations of the world, arrive in the late evenings or early mornings, the possibility of any mishap can not be ruled out.

The encroachment on both sides of the road by the shopkeepers and mushrooming dwellings will worsen the situation in near future.

At least three lakh passengers arrive at this airport every year and the flow is likely to increase manifold.

The volume of cargo can not get a desired boost due to the indifferent attitude of all concerned.

Though the state government has sent a communication to the Centre to declare Amritsar's Raja Sansi International Airport, a port for export, nothing concrete has come out so far.

The proposed notification can ensure quick transportation of fresh fruits and vegetables abroad.

With international flights like Singapore Airlines starting operations from here, cargo facilities need to be in place to encourage exports and have matching imports.

Infact, these flights can only be sustained if the state and the Centre work together to enhance cargo traffic by bringing in cargo planes.

However, Mr V.S. Mulekar, Director, Airport Authority of India ( AAI), says the cargo terminal is ready and action on having a cargo bay has also been initiated.

Mr Mulekar says the new building of the international airport will be completed in the middle of this year. It will become operational from August 2005.

The construction of another air bridge and further extension of taxi track for aeroplanes are also in the pipeline .

Meanwhile, the government agencies are baffled over a suitable solution to check the flow of 'sangat' at the shrine in the airport's vicinity, especially during every 'sangrand' or anniversary of baba, when more than one lakh devotees throng the Gurdwara.

Mr Mulekar says he has sent many reminders to the state government through the Deputy Commissioner but it has evoked no response.

He says with more international flights in the offing, the arrangement of 'langar' (community kitchen) inside the shrine can pose a serious security threat.

He says the Airport Authority of India has offered to construct a big Gurdwara outside the airport, yet it does not get a positive response so far.

The devotees have faith in the shrine that was set up some 55 years ago when the airport was under the control of the Indian Air Force.

The "abiding belief", it is learnt, emanates from the fact that the shrine as well as the airport remained undamaged during the massive air strikes in the 1965 and 1971 wars with Pakistan, even though it was the 'nearest' and 'softest' target for enemy sorties.

The airport in Amritsar was originally granted the status of an international airport in 1980 when international flights to several destinations in Pakistan, Afghanistan, the then Soviet Union and England were introduced.


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