Agra: This city, which is home to the Taj Mahal and gets around 12,000 tourists a day, has no airport. But its residents point out that a little known place called Jewar, 100 km away, is ironically set to get an international airport.
The people of Agra are at a loss over the move to locate the airport in Jewar in Bulandshahr district and not in their world famous city.
Local MP Ram Shankar Katheria says Agra`s demand for an airport is being ignored. "We will oppose the move and bring the airport to Agra at any cost."
The hotel industry also sees no logic in Jewar being chosen.
"Obviously all this is being done to please the promoters of the six-lane Yamuna Expressway which may not have many clients and users and prove to be a losing proposition," alleged hotelier Sandip Arora of the Taj Ganj area.
If the airport comes up close to the expressway, tourists will have no choice but to use the facility being constructed at a cost of more than Rs.3,800 crore, Arora said.
The demand for an international airport in Agra with direct flights has been hanging fire for the past three decades. And now the authorities are keen on Jewar instead.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Secretary Atul Kumar Gupta last week moved a representation before the union civil aviation ministry seeking its clearance for setting up an international airport and aviation hub in Jewar on the outskirts of Greater Noida.
Gupta said: "Agra was considered for an international airport way back in 2003, but it was not found feasible on account of the existence of a major air force base there.
"In any case the site of the proposed airport in Jewar was barely 20-25 km away from the site that was then identified for the purpose in Agra."
He believes Jewar would provide an ideal location. "Jewar would cater as conveniently to Delhi as it would to Agra and then our proposal is not just to create an ordinary international airport, but to develop it into a major international aviation hub," he pointed out.
But not everyone is convinced.
The Taj International Airport Project at Jewar is to come up midway between Greater Noida and Agra.
"This will serve little practical purpose," says Rakesh Chauhan, president of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Agra. "It will only go against the interests of the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi which is on an expansion mode at the moment. Just 68 km from Palam, another airport makes no sense," Chauhan added.
Those in the aviation business say any new airport should be at least 150 km away from an existing airport.
"This makes Agra the ideal venue for an airport that can handle international air traffic," said exporter Har Vijay Singh Bahia, a globetrotter.
Allegations are flying thick and fast.
Former legislator Satish Chand Gupta said: "The Delhi lobby of tour operators and hotels is not letting Agra grow and is putting all sorts of hurdles in the execution of projects that could benefit the local tourism industry."
Earlier the air force was blamed for not letting a civil airport come up in Agra.
But now that the Agra air force base is not being utilised by fighter planes, which have left for Gwalior, the existing Kheria airport can be easily upgraded to international level without much expenditure, said local tourism industry leaders.
The people of Agra have been demanding bifurcation of the airport and allocating one airstrip for a civil airport to handle tourist traffic.
"First there were rumours that the defence ministry had objected to an international airport in Agra. Later, it was said the airport would not be viable in terms of revenue generation. Then we suddenly heard that the project had gone to Jewar on the advice of Behenji (Chief Minister Mayawati)," said an angry Surendra Sharma, founder president of the Hotels and Restaurants Association of Agra.
"If all tourists have to eventually come to Agra to see the Taj, then what sense does it make to ask them to get down at Palam or Jewar and then take the road to Agra, which is not only time- consuming but has also proved unsafe in recent years?" he asked.