Sunday, October 31, 2004

Get airport project off the ground, Mr CM

Get airport project off the ground, Mr CM
H.S. Balram, Editor, Times of India

Guess what Karnataka CM Dharam Singh would like to see first when he opens his eyes in the morning these days? Bangalore’s sudden transformation into a Singapore, with state-of-the-art roads, flyovers, underpasses and subways, smooth and fast-moving traffic, an efficient public transport system aided by an underground rail network, and an international airport working to its full capacity. Sadly, Lady Luck isn’t ready to oblige him on this front, like she did in the case of drought and Veerappan. Both the menaces disappeared without him having to make any effort.

In the case of infrastructure, he will have to sweat it out, be practical in approach, take the private sector into confidence, unleash upright and hands-on bureaucrats, crack the whip against the corrupt and lethargic, work out an effective action plan, fix rigid deadlines, and start implementation. Not just in Bangalore, but the entire state as well. Only then can he put a stop to daily protests by citizens, trade and industry. Even high-profile party leader Rahul Gandhi and predecessor S.M. Krishna minced no words in saying that the government muct act fast.

Agreed that Dharam Singh does not have a magic wand to change the scenario overnight. But he can at least get things moving. Take, for instance, the ambitious Rs 1300 crore international airport project at Devanahalli.

A few weeks ago, we were informed that the Centre had given the final signal by approving the concession agreement, and work would begin by the end of this year. Everyone heaved a sigh of relief. The CM claimed it as another feather in his cap. He even boasted how his good equation with Praful Patel, Civil Aviation Minister, helped in clearing the blocks. Now, we are told that there are a few more hurdles to be cleared. Which means further delay, notwithstanding the assurances being given from time to time.

The Karnataka government has reopened the issue of state support and is trying to push the amount down by Rs 75 crore. The S.M. Krishna government had fixed Rs 350 crore for the project as its share.

The land lease agreement is awaiting formal signatures as acquisition of about 200 acres of land is not yet through.

The Centre has not yet finalised an integrated air traffic management, as four airports — HAL, Yelahanka, Jakkur and the new airport at Devanahalli — are located in one line, and the air space for each has to be worked out to prevent air accidents.

Financial closure with the lenders to cover the project debt amount is yet to be completed.
Both the central and state government are taking their own time in finalising the agreements. The consortium members, comprising Siemens Ventures, Larsen & Toubro and Zurich Airport, are obviously upset. They have lodged a strong protest. Zurich Airport has told the partners that it cannot take the running expenses of the project and will have to pull out if it extends beyond March 2005. The Bangalore International Airport Ltd (BIAL) is worried. It fears that if immediate steps are not taken, the project may fall through.

Hyderabad will be the gainer. Its international airport project is going full steam as all agreements have been signed. If it is completed first, it will finalise bilateral agreements with airlines, making BIAL redundant, officials feel. In June 1998, a similar situation arose when a Tatas-led consortium pulled out of the project citing ‘political and bureaucratic’ delays. The JH-Patel JD government was in power then. Dharam Singh must speed up things. Be it the expansion of the ministry to its required strength of 34, so that immediate attention is paid to all development projects, or the film moratorium row which has provoked a boycott threat by the non-Kannada film industry, or the deteriorating infrastructure. He must persuade coalition partner JD(S) to extend full cooperation. Yes, running a coalition government isn’t easy. But he did have a long honeymoon — five months. It’s time he comes to grips with governance.


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