The Meghalaya High Court has directed the state government to identify a few pockets of land for the construction of a greenfield airport as the Shillong airport cannot be extended to accommodate the landing of bigger aircraft.
A High Court division bench headed by Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee said this while a PIL on the matter on Tuesday. "The state, in consultation with AAI or even the officials stationed at the Umroi airport, should make an attempt to identify a few pockets of land and, thereupon, AAI may be invited to give a preliminary opinion as to whether any of such pockets would be feasible for a greenfield airport project," the bench said in an order.
The bench said that once a land pocket has been identified as feasible then acquisition exercise be taken up, adding that the exercise has to also be done discreetly to avoid middlemen jacking up the land prices.
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The court, however, made it clear that it will not interfere or impose its will if both the state and the union governments are reluctant to set up a new airport but stated that a new airport close to Shillong may give a fillip to the state and its development initiatives.
At present ATRs and smaller aircraft like Bombardiers are landing at the existing airport and the length of the runway and the surrounding hills do not make it feasible for wide-bodied aircraft to call at Umroi, the court observed. The Lokpriya Gopinath Bordoloi Airport at Guwahati is about 140 km away and over 3 hour's drive, whereas Shillong Airport is about 30 minutes from the city, it added.
The court also observed that though Meghalaya is a hilly state it also has large tracts of plains and the closest place that can have a bigger airport appears, possibly to be Ri-Bhoi district or in the West Khasi Hills. The AAI had in its reports indicated that Umroi where the Shillong Airport is located may not be the ideal location for expansion of the airport to receive bigger aircraft since the extension of the runway involves falling hills at a high cost.
Also, taking into consideration that clouds and fog engulf the airport and its surroundings in the monsoon, the bench suggested to the state to explore whether the land was available for a greenfield airport project to be started.
An effort was made by the state towards the middle and end of the last year to invite offers from landowners for selling land for the proposed new airport where only one major offer came and the pre-feasibility study conducted by AAI indicated that the cost would be too high to level the land for the construction of a runway since the difference in height from the lowest point in the relevant land to the highest was about 180 metres, the court stated.
The AAI later suggested that instead of seeking offers from landowners for the project, the state and AAI could jointly identify certain pockets where it may be feasible to put up a new airport to receive wide-bodied aircraft. Feasibility studies could be conducted at two or three places to identify one or two of the proposed sites for the state to acquire the requisite land and make it over to AAI, it added.
The court said it appears that in the development trajectory that Meghalaya seems to have embarked on, a better-serviced airport is an absolute necessity for the further prosperity of the state, including as a tourist hub. The next hearing of the case will be held on May 9.
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