Chandigarh, January 5
Besides a new domestic terminal coming up in Chandigarh, international terminal will be in Mohali.
It all happened at Chandigarh airport on Friday soon after union civil aviation minister Praful Patel arrived. His flight from Jammu was delayed by more than an hour. Patel had gone to Jammu to pay obeisance at Vaishno Devi.
Greeted by an agitated Haryana Chief Minister, Patel was reportedly taken aback on being accused of changing the character of the union territory.
Even the Prime Minister had no right to change the character of Chandigarh as both Haryana and Punjab were vested with equal stakes in this union territory was the argument taken by Hooda which caught the union minister on the wrong foot.
Arguments continued for a while before Patel in agreement with the Punjab Chief Minister and two MPs, Tarlochan Singh and Sukhdev Singh Dhindsa, both members of the Civil Aviation Advisory Committee of Parliament, conceded to Hooda’s demand and allowed Haryana and Punjab an equal share in the project.
Insiders maintain that Hooda even thought that arguments given by Tarlochan Singh that since new international terminal was to come up in Mohali and there was neither any contiguity nor any physical connectivity of the airport with Haryana, signing of the MoU should not be contested at the last minute.
Haryana, he maintained, had nothing to lose in the project as the airport would be run by the Airport Authority of India (AAI), a union government agency, and facilities for using the international terminal would also be available to Haryanavis as well as Himachalis.
“You are arguing as if you are an MP from Punjab and not Haryana,” remarked Hooda by overruling the objection that how Haryana could claim share in a project which was physically in Punjab and Chandigarh. In fact, the issue of upgrading the Chandigarh airport was raised by Tarlochan Singh in Parliament a couple of years ago and he followed it up in the meetings of the Civil Aviation Advisory Committee meetings also.
“It is a goodwill gesture on the part of Bhupinder Singh Hooda to contribute financially for an international project in Chandigarh and Punjab, benefits of which will also be available to people in Haryana,” Tarlochan Singh told The Tribune. “This type of goodwill gesture would also help in sorting out other inter-state and territorial disputes,” he added.
Union minister of state for finance Pawan Kumar Bansal, the sources maintained, supported the projected as originally envisaged and also spoke in Punjabi at the function, which started more than an hour behind the schedule.
At one stage, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal even offered Chandigarh a share in the new project.
Only after the issue got settled with Haryana, the function of laying the foundation stone started. Interestingly, plans for the expansion and upgradation of the Chandigarh airport stood cleared even before the proposal of an international terminal at Mohali was made.
The Punjab government is hopeful that international flights from its proposed Mohali airport will start in October this year. Initially, destinations in Southeast and West Asia may be air-linked before air services are extended to Europe and North America.
As of now, it looks Chandigarh airport will become twin-terminal complex with the Punjab government pooling in its share for the development of Mohali terminal. The runway for both terminals will continue to be the same.
Presently, Chandigarh airport handles seven flights a day, thus providing direct connectivity to Mumbai, Ranchi and Kolkata, besides allowing air passengers facility to travel from the union capital to the city in the afternoon or in the evening.
The only time, an international flight was specially permitted was for a flight to Lahore for the World Cup Cricket final there. A chartered aircraft was allowed to take cricket teams, officials and members of the media to Lahore from here. A special immigration and customs clearance counter was set up for the one-time exceptional flight.
Though the demand for upgrading the Chandigarh airport has been raised not only by both the CII and the PHDCCI, it has also been backed by the state governments of Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh and the Chandigarh administration.
But initially, both Haryana and Himachal Pradesh did not agree to becoming partners in the project with the AAI.
The increased frequency of air services to and fro Chandigarh coupled with gradual upgrading of the existing terminal building were clear indications that the city needed better national and international connectivity.
At present, the Chandigarh airport belongs to the Indian Air Force and the AAI only maintains a civil air terminal which has a capacity to cater to 200 passengers and apron to park 2 Airbus 320 and one ATR-72 aircraft.
Depending upon the transfer of land from the adjoining defence estate, the AAI wants the apron area to be expanded so as to accommodate a minimum of four Airbus (AB-321) aircraft.