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Monday, Apr 14, 2003

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Taj international airport — Will the hub idea take off?

Ashwini Phadnis

CALL IT the pressures and pulls of coalition politics or the convincing abilities of the Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister, Ms Mayawati. But the Centre in the end had to go against its own stated policy and allow the creation of a new Taj International airport just 70 km from Delhi.

For several months now the proposed project had been hanging fire, with senior officials not convinced about the viability of such a project so close to the existing airport at Delhi. But just as there are critics of the project, there are also several supporters including a strong lobby in the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) which has time and time again stressed on the need of making India into an aviation hub.

This is precisely what the proposed airport projects seeks to do in UP. Not only will the proposed project have a world-class airport but will also be the first aviation hub in north and central India.

"It shall complement the overloaded Indira Gandhi international airport in Delhi and, more important, open up north India for a large number of international transit traffic," senior State government officials said. The project proposes a good road system from the airport to the Taj Mahal so that transit passengers can use the waiting time to make a quick visit to one of the seven wonders of the world.

State government officials point to the cascading effect that the project will have on the Indian economy including generating many direct and indirect employment opportunities. The officials argue that the proposed project will transform the economy of western UP, especially around Agra. "It shall not only herald international tourism in a big way, but shall also provide multi-modal transport synergies to the land-locked Taj economic zone.

The project, therefore, will be a catalyst for growth in tourism, hospitality, SEZ exports, agri exports and handicrafts, and other sectors," senior State government officials said.

But what is the need for a hub in India, one may ask. The CII has argued either the country establishes a hub here or be ready to be pushed to the sidelines. "If you look around India, you will notice that there are hubs in Dubai, Sharjah, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Hong Kong, We have been left behind. But we still have a chance. A regional hub must be created in India and it must become operational within this decade," the CII has said.

Citing several reasons for the hub, the CII pointed out that India has several advantages which can be leveraged such as its unique geographical location which is literally at the cross-roads of the world.

"Besides, there is the advantage of time zone which will be convenient for both the western as well as the eastern world. Then there is the issue of fluency in English language, the existence of aviation infrastructure and expertise. Further, we can also make use of the highly skilled and relatively inexpensive manpower available here," the chamber has said.

Another thing that weighs heavily in favour of creation of an aviation hub in India is that air routes south of the Himalayas have been restructured and this has resulted in Europe Middle East Asia Route Structure, South of the Himalayas commonly called EMARSSH. This has helped India as now almost all the major air routes cross Indian skies.

Further, to ensure the success of the project the UP government has said that the aviation hub shall work on 70 per cent of non-aviation revenue stream model compared to a mere 20 per cent for the Indira Gandhi Airport at Delhi and a slightly higher figure for the Sahar airport at Mumbai.

Having secured the technical clearance for the airport, the State government plans to go ahead with the other requirements for launching the project. It is expected that the airport and aviation hub would be developed largely by private developers/consortium with the Central/State governments providing 15-20 per cent of the core services including air traffic control.

Whether the dream project of Mayawati is successful in making India into a aviation hubs on the lines of Singapore, London or Bangkok, only time will tell.

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