An airport named assurance

[Tongam Rina]
If you read this newspaper, it is likely that you have read the phrase ‘time-bound completion’ more than once a week. Arunachal is known for not accomplishing anything on time, though the phrase is one of the most abused words by the policymakers.
Take the example of Siang bridge.
The foundation stone for the bridge over the majestic Siang river was laid in 1988 by former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi. The 763.5-metre long bridge was supposed to be completed within three years, but it took more than 20 years to complete it!
At more than twice the cost, the bridge was opened in 2009.
There is another word which you will read at least once a week: ‘Assurance’, it is assured!
Now, the assurance of establishing an airport in Itanagar has taken epic proportions. Eleven years of assurance to be precise – and there is still no airport in sight.
In these 11 years, we have seen five chief ministers, including Pema Khandu, the current one. Fools that we are, we will still believe and celebrate assurances from politicians who make a living out of fooling people with one assurance after another.
In this particular case, one may argue that a state government that is dependent on central funds for everything has no choice but to relay the assurance given by the central ministries. But perhaps it is also wrong to put the blame on central government entirely.
Hollongi was not the first choice for the greenfield airport. In 2007, Karsingsa was first recommended, and the then home minister Shivraj Patil had laid its foundation stone in 2007, on Statehood Day.
Due to technical issues and questions of cost effectiveness, the civil aviation ministry’s central technical committee in its joint inspection report later recommended Hollongi as the feasible site.
What prompted the central agencies to decide that Hollongi was the feasible site? Apart from technicalities, politics was at play for choosing Hollongi. The huge compensation amount, obviously. Compensation has to be paid since for long Arunachalees have given their land for free because everyone wants good infrastructure.
But Hollongi is a typical case of rich and influential Arunachalees acquiring land overnight and shifting projects to places where most profit would be made by you know who. Agreed that many already owned land even before the airport was proposed, but it is also true that many politicians bought land in the proposed site in anticipation of compensation.
While the moneyed ones will make more money, with or without owning land in the proposed site, what about the local villagers who are owners of small plots of land and have halted cultivation in the area in anticipation of an airport? How much are they going to benefit? Will the state and the central government and its agencies compensate these farmers who have not been able to farm because of the uncertainty?
The questions are many, but one can just hope that an airport will actually come up. In this age, it’s not only the rich who fly. An airport has become a necessity, more so because the nearest airport, Lilabari, is known more for cancellation of flights.
The assurances have been offered for so long that it is difficult to believe that something definite regarding the airport is taking shape. According to the government’s statement, the preparation of the detailed project report for the project by the Airports Authority of India is likely to be completed by 20 July and forwarded to the civil aviation ministry by 30 July. The steering committee is likely to approve the project proposal by August 2018, along with all the mandatory clearances.
This statement was issued following the meeting of Chief Minister Pema Khandu with Union Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha, who apparently assured that his ministry would take up the greenfield airport project in Hollongi on topmost priority.
While the state government under Pema Khandu has done some tangible work pertaining to the clearance of the airport, it remains to be seen how and when the construction will actually start. It has reached a point that yours truly is not even bothered about the completion as of now.
How long does it actually take for an airport to be built? Eleven years of assurances, to start with.