Agra: The Kheria airport in Agra is ready to receive domestic airlines and international chartered flights ahead of a new tourist season beginning next month. But bureaucratic red tape and local politics are holding up air connectivity to the city of Taj from metros and international centres.
Two months ago, Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav had announced reducing value added tax (VAT) on jet fuel at the airport from 22 percent to four percent to make it attractive for airlines to fly in to Agra. "But the order of the CM is lost in bureaucratic tangle," Rajiv Tiwari, president of the Federation of Travel Agents Associations of India, said.
"If today the state government issues an ordinance on VAT reduction, Agra will become an attractive destination and aircraft will make a beeline to get fuelled here. But it`s obvious the government is not interested," Tiwari added.
Airlines have already released schedules for the new season and as expected Agra is missing in these. "Even now if the chief minister announces VAT reduction on jet fuel, things would change.
"Some airlines are willing and the local hospitality industry is ready to offer sops to visitors to promote air connectivity," said Tiwari.
Local industrialists say if the state government really wants to promote business, it should develop the Kheria airport, which is due for expansion. "All that is required is announcement of a reduction in VAT," Sandeep Arora, an industrialist, said.
"This certainly is not a new demand. The Chhattisgarh government did it and so did Punjab to promote Amritsar," added Arora.
Meanwhile, local competitive politics is playing its role. The state government has set in motion the process to appoint a consultant for a greenfield airport at a vantage point between Mathura and Agra. Pradeep Mathur, a local politician from Mathura, met the chief minister in Lucknow Tuesday asking him to give priority to Mathura`s Baldev area, close to the Yamuna Expressway.
However, the greenfield airport will encounter problems in seeking clearances from the Indian Air Force and the Environment Ministry. It has also to be from a safe distance from the Mathura Refinery of Indian Oil and the Bharatpur sanctuary in Rajasthan.
"It’s not going to be easy to acquire 1,500 acres of land after the Expressway experience," said social activist Shravan Kumar Singh.