Goa politicians gripe over Rs 345-crore new airport terminal

Once vaunted and an object for appropriation of cheap brownie points for Goa's political parties while it was being constructed, Goa's 10-month-young new airport terminal, built at a cost of Rs 345 crore (USD 56.5 million), is suddenly "nobody's child".

IANS| Last Updated: Sep 16, 2014, 15:08 PM IST

Panaji: Once vaunted and an object for appropriation of cheap brownie points for Goa's political parties while it was being constructed, Goa's 10-month-young new airport terminal, built at a cost of Rs 345 crore (USD 56.5 million), is suddenly "nobody's child".

The still shiny new airport building at the Dabolim International Airport, Goa's only aviation facility that functions from a military base, has now become a political hot potato for the opposition Congress and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) for being badly planned, tardy, smelly and of defective construction standards with several loose ends and even "unsafe".

Inaugurated last December, Congress legislator Mauvin Godinho claims the airport is shockingly unplanned and disaster prone.

"It is most shocking that they have built the parking bay for aeroplanes near fuel dumps. Who plans like this? There are so many planes parked there during peak hours and they are in danger in case of an accident. The navy (which controls the airport) should have been a bit humane and have more concern for civilian needs," Godinho told IANS.

While the new airport terminal was being constructed, the Congress and its leaders repeatedly sought credit for the project, which sought to replace the old building that was much smaller and could handle only a limited number of passengers.

In 2012, the old terminal handled 3.5 million tourists annually in addition to other domestic travellers. The maximum capacity for handling passengers at the old terminal was only 900 passengers per hour, but it was actually handling 2,000 passengers.

The new facility built over 64,000 sq metres has a peak-time capacity of 2,750 passengers per hour. The state is a top beach tourism destination and attracts over half a million foreign tourists every year.

Environment and Forests Minister Alina Saldanha herself has been extremely critical of the airport, claiming the Airports Authority of India (AAI), a central government agency which operates the facility, blames everything on "lack of space".

"Why? There is so much land available with the Indian Navy. Why could they not give more land for the project considering the growth in passenger arrivals here?" Saldanha asked while speaking to a news agency.

Another BJP legislator, Carlos Almeida, who represents the Vasco constituency, a stone's throw from Dabolim, has a virtual laundry list of complaints, which begins from a lack of toilets, no restaurant and the shambles the promised multi-level parking arrangement is in.

South Goa MP and chairman of advisory committee of Dabolim airport Narendra Sawaikar says he has no magic wand, but claims that a list of priorities had been developed after taking stock of the problems along with a team of AAI officials.

"We would all like to see a world-class, state-of-the-art airport facility in Goa because it is an international tourism destination," Sawaikar told IANS on the sidelines of an inspection carried out last Friday.

He said that he had received inputs from all quarters, including passengers, on issues related to creation of parking facilities, toilets and creating a full-fledged police station, among others.

"I will press for these facilities with the central government," Sawaikar said.

Goa's politicians, cutting across party lines, have consistently targeted the military for "hogging" space in Goa.

While top Indian Navy officers have claimed the legitimate right to the land that hosts naval base INS Hansa, which also accommodates the Dabolim airport, politicians have accused the Indian Navy of forcibly "occupying" the land after the liberation from Portugal in 1961.

Complaining about the difficulty to get an Indian Army battalion to vacate and relocate from the prime land in Panaji, Chief Minister Manohar Parrikar in 2012 memorably told the state Legislative Assembly that "it is easier to get the army to vacate from Lahore but not from even an inch of land in Panaji".