Kushinagar Airport project back on runway

Written by Deepa Jainani | Lucknow | Updated: Aug 16 2013, 07:34am hrs
Almost five years after its launch, the ambitious Kushinagar Airport project in Uttar Pradesh is finally on the verge of taking off. The long-awaited airport project in eastern Uttar Pradesh, which is expected to cater not only to the heavy Buddhist traffic originating from South East Asian countries but also give a fillip to the most backward region of the state, is finally looking set to be rolled out.

The project, which is integral for the integrated development of the entire Buddhist circuit, is to be built under the public-private partnership (PPP) mode on a design-build-finance-operate-transfer (DBFOT) basis.

The R354-crore prestigious project at Kushinagar, which is one of the four most important pilgrimage sites of Lord Buddha, is one of the first greenfield airport project to get the approval for Viability Gap Funding from the department of economic affairs, the finance ministry and the Centre. The VGF approval granted is R70.93 crores (20% of the project cost) while an additional support of up to 20% is expected from the state government.

Heavy enthusiasm amongst the eight bidders who have been issued RFP documents Gammon, GMR, SREI, Essel Infra, Supreme Infrastructure, GKC, GR Infra and Transtroy before the final bids are placed on August 30, shows that development in Uttar Pradesh will no longer remain alien in the political lexicon of the state, what with chief minister Akhilesh Yadav repeatedly stating that development alone will be the barometer for deciding the winner at the forthcoming hustings.

The project, which was first mooted by the Mayawati government in 2008, before being abandoned by developers for being unviable, was taken up by the Akhilesh Yadav government soon after it came to power last year. And after years of perseverence, the project is within kissing distance of being awarded.

The Kushinagar airport is one of the 17 new airports proposed for construction during the 12th Five-Year Plan and would provide a lifeline to lakhs of workers seeking emigration from UP every year.

In fact, the ministry of Indian overseas affairs Annual Report 2012-13 indicates that UP is number one in terms of emigrants. While the common perception is that Kerala sends the largest workforce abroad, fact is that UP has granted emigration clearance to as many as 191,341 people in 2012, Kerala, which comes second after UP, has sent 98,178 only while Andhra Pradesh has sent 92,803 and Bihar has sent 84,078 workers.

While our conservative estimate is that approximately 2.5 lakh people will use the airport from the first year of commercial operations, it is almost certain that we will outsrip this number as apart from Buddhist footfalls, we must take into cognizance the fact that while emigration from kerala, Punjab, Gujarat and Maharastra has reduced steadily in the past few years, UP has been growing.

Also since Kushinagar Airport is located on the Bihar-UP border, it is expected to cater to the West Asia traffic from Bihar too, said an official of the state government requesting anonymity.

Corelating this project to the Cochin airport project, which was the first PPP project in aviation, another state official said, just like the Cochin airport started off with a traffic of just 50,000 but reached an annual traffic of 40 lakhs within the first five years, Kushinagar airport will see a traffic boom that is unimaginable at the moment. The only reason why investors were wary of investing in this project earlier was that with the economy going down, aviation was the last sector in which they wanted to invest and that too in Uttar Pradesh. But now that things are looking up and even central governments estimates are saying that UP has a genuine need for an airport in Kushinagar, the investors interest is back, he said, adding that chief minister Akhilesh Yadavs declaration that his government will complete all development projects, the morale of the investors have reached a new-found high.