In what appears to be another inter-state dispute in the making, a war of words has ensued between Punjab and Haryana over the yet-to-be-named international airport at Mohali. While Punjab, in whose territory the 1,400-crore joint venture facility is located, keeps calling it Mohali International Airport, Haryana is seething at the nomenclature.
Chandigarh Airport got its much-awaited international status a full year after Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated it. Union Territory Chandigarh , the joint capital of Punjab and Haryana, saw its first international flight to Sharjah taking off from here on 15 September and a flight to Dubai on 26 September.
However, the inaugural event saw a twist, with the Haryana government raising strong objections to the Punjab government claiming the airport to be Mohali International Airport. A war of words erupted between Punjab Chief Minister, Parkash Singh Badal and his Haryana counterpart Manohar Lal Khattar. Earlier also, when work on the international airport began, Badal and then Haryana CM Bhupinder Singh Hooda had traded barbs on this issue and at one stage it appeared that the two had agreed to rename ‘Chandigarh Airport’ as ‘Shaheed Bhagat Singh International Airport’.
Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar has raised strong objection to Punjab claiming the airport to be ‘Mohali International Airport’ and shot off a demi-official letter to his Punjab counterpart Badal.
“I am happy to note that Chandigarh International Airport Ltd has started its international operations. This is a welcome culmination of our persistent efforts with the Ministry of Civil Aviation. However, I am deeply anguished by the advertisements that appeared in various newspapers terming the Chandigarh International Airport as Mohali International Airport. This is factually incorrect,” Khattar wrote to Badal. Khattar further mentioned, “the fact is that the final nomenclature of this airport has not yet been decided by the Government of India. This airport is managed by Chandigarh International Airport Ltd where Airports Authority of India is having 51 percent equity partnership and State Governments of Haryana and Punjab are having equity at the rate of 24.5 percent each in the said Company”.
“Being the equal partner in the Chandigarh International Airport Ltd, we strongly object to the misleading advertisement campaign carried out by the State Government of Punjab. I request you to kindly look into the matter and take remedial action in this regard,” Khattar continued in his strongly worded letter.
Earlier, Haryana had maintained that it will have no objection if the Chandigarh international airport was named after Shaheed Bhagat Singh after demand was raised from various quarters including from the legendary martyr’s kin in this regard.
International connectivity was announced with an Air India flight to Sharjah in which Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal was onboard with a state-leveldelegation.
Ten days after the maiden international flight to Sharjah, the Chandigarh International Airport was connected with Dubai from 26 September when an IndiGo Airlines 180-seater (all economy class seats) Airbus A320 plane took off from at 4.15 pm and landed at Dubai at 7.50 pm (IST).
The non-stop flights between Mohali and Dubai will take place daily. The all-inclusive return fare for the flight is Rs 9,999.
Meanwhile, a team of two judges of the Punjab and Haryana High Court visited the airport to inspect the facilities available for passengers at the terminal in the backdrop of a public interest litigation filed in the HC regarding inadequate facilities for passengers at the airport.
The states of Punjab and Haryana have made equal contribution to the construction of the international airport, although land has been made available for this airport in Mohali by the Punjab government, which is one reason for its insistence that it be named Mohali International Airport. As such, both Punjab and Haryana continue to spar over its name and are creating a fuss.
There is little doubt that the controversy over the name of the airport has stolen the sheen out of international flights from the airport. A cross-section of people from Chandigarh, Mohali and Panchkula that form the Chandigarh region opine that though the international airport is located in Mohali, the allied services like ATC are located in Chandigarh. Logically, it should be called as Chandigarh International Airport because the original name, Chandigarh Airport, would be acceptable to all and represents all stakeholders. The name is well-known all over the world and has an immediate impact. The functioning of the airport should be conducive for business, educational and tourism sectors. Services at the airport should be provided at affordable rates. A committee should be constituted by Punjab and Haryana, along with the Airports Authority of India, to evolve a consensus on this issue.
Even as Union Civil Aviation Minister P Ashok Gajapathi Raju, who graced the taking off of the first international flight from this airport almost a year after its inauguration, made it clear that no name had yet been finalised for the airport, Punjab and Haryana Chief Ministers and politicians do not let go off any opportunity to stake their right to name the airport.
In this sparring, leaders of the BJP in the two states seem to forget that they not only share power in Punjab but also lead the alliance at the Centre. Instead of taking pride in having the much-needed facility for the region after years of struggle and acquisition of over 300 acres, the neighbouring states seem inclined to add the airport to their long list of inter-state disputes.
Be it Chandigarh, Punjabi-speaking areas in Haryana or river waters, Punjab and Haryana have not been able to reach a consensus and the successive governments at the Centre have done little to help solve the inter-state disputes. “Punjab and Haryana are apparently not included in the category of preferred states. Rather, the two states and their capital are treated as a colony. The step-motherly treatment was not evident just in the airport case”. These scathing remarks by a division bench of the Punjab and Haryana High Court recently on the case to make the airport fully functional only adds credence to the Centre’s apathy towards Chandigarh, Punjab and Haryana. With such categorical assertion coming from none other than senior judges, it is high time that politicians of Punjab and Haryana sit together and resolve the long-pending issues once for all. Hope the voice of sanity finds willing ears!
Meanwhile describing the maiden direct international flight from here as a red letter day, Punjab Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal has said that it was a step further towards emerging the state as ‘hub of air connectivity’ thereby immensely benefiting the Punjabi diaspora settled across the globe. Badal said that it was a matter of great pride and satisfaction for the Punjabis that Punjab was the first in the northern region to have two international airports.
He said that this international Airport at Mohali, second in the state after Amritsar, was result of persistent efforts made by the state government. He said that the commencing of international flights from this airport would give a much needed boost to the economy of the state by connecting it with the rest of world.
Badal thanked Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajpati Raju and said that it was a magnificent gift of NDA government to the Punjabis settled across in different parts of the world as it would enable them stay well connected with their roots. The Punjab Chief Minister said that this airport would act as a catalyst to boost industrialization in the state besides showcasing Punjab as the most preferred investment destination to woo the leading entrepreneurs across the world to make huge investments in the state.
Badal said that international air connectivity from Mohali was all the more important because it would connect the entire northern region comprising Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Uttarakhand and even the western part of Uttar Pradesh with the other parts of the world. He said that in the absence of this international airport, a large number of passengers from the northern states were left with no other option but to travel Delhi for boarding international flights, which not only caused undue harassment to them but also resulted in huge wastage of time, money and energy.
Punjab Deputy Chief Minister Sukhbir Singh Badal said that with the operationalisation of the Mohali International Airport, a major promise made to the people of Punjab has been fulfilled by the state government. Terming this as a historic occasion, he said that this initiative would go a long way to propel the IT and tourism sectors.