March 2022 deadline set for Arunachal airport
December 1, 2019
The Civil Aviation Minister has set March 2022 as the deadline for completing a greenfield airport that triggered the fall of the Congress and the upsurge of the BJP in Arunachal Pradesh.The Hollongi airport near capital Itanagar was one of a slew of projects worth ₹4,000 crore for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi laid the foundation stone in February. It is estimated to cost ₹1,200 crore.Minister of State (Independent) for Civil Aviation Hardeep Singh Puri, during a video conference with Arunachal Pradesh Chief Secretary Naresh Kumar, stated that the Centre would assist the State in completing the Hollongi project by March 31, 2022.The focus was also on developing helipads at five strategic places of the State apart from Tawang. The State government had suggested air connectivity between India and Bhutan via the Tawang helipad.The Hollongi project has been a touchy one for successive State governments. It was one of the major reasons why the Congress government headed by Nabam Tuki fell to eventually make the BJP come to power in the State.An airport was initially scheduled to be built at Karsingsa, also near Itanagar, and former Union Minister Shivraj Patil laid the foundation stone for it in 2008. The Tuki government rejected the site in 2012 for “geographical complications” and opted for Hollongi.In October 2015, former Governor Jyoti Prasad Rajkhowa wrote to Prime Minister Modi that the proposed airport at Hollongi be scrapped to save ₹1,150 crore, including ₹500 crore in land compensation. He advised upgrade of the Lilabari airport in Assam’s North Lakhimpur town nearby, adding he was echoing the suggestion of Opposition leaders, students’ organisations and social activists in Arunachal Pradesh. The letter said that Mr. Tuki, his cousin and former Assembly Speaker Nabam Rebia and other members of their families own most of the land at Hollongi “because of which the original site for the airport was moved”.The cold war between Mr. Rajkhowa and Mr. Tuki intensified and led to the latter’s ouster in January 2016. A brief President’s rule followed, after which Kalikho Pul was sworn in to head a “rebel Congress” government that was not recognised by the Supreme Court, which reinstated Mr. Tuki in July that year.But Mr Tuki quit to hand over the reins to Pema Khandu, who first headed a Congress government that changed to the regional People’s Party of Arunachal before turning saffron in December 2016.