Friday, June 20, 2008

NH blockade stalls airport inspection

Bappaditya Paul
SILIGURI, June 19: A team of the Union civil aviation ministry from New Delhi today failed to visit Sikkim to inspect the progress of the upcoming Gangtok airport due to the ongoing blockade of the National Highway 31A by the GJMM Agitating over a separate Gorkhaland state in Darjeeling, the GJMM has brought the Sikkim lifeline to a halt since 16 June evening through its blockade of the highway.
The three-member Union civil aviation ministry team, headed by the departmental secretary Mr Ashok Chawla, landed at the Bagdogra airport near Siliguri at 12:15 pm today. The other two members in the team included, the Airports Authority of India member operations Mr Praveen Seth and the executive director (engineering-central headquarters) Mr Raheja.
They were scheduled to visit Sikkim by road and take stock of the progress of the Sikkim's first airport project coming up at Pakyong, 31 kms off Gangtok. The team was also supposed to hold a meeting with the Sikkim chief secretary in Gangtok, before leaving the mountain state tomorrow.
“But due to the closure of the NH 31A, they dropped the Sikkim trip and left for Guwahati at 12:45 pm. From Guwahati, the team would go to Meghalaya to inspect the project work of the upcoming airport at the capital town Shillong,” informed Mr KK Bhowmick, airport director, Bagdogra. The civil aviation team's visit was related to the release of further Central funds.
The first civilian airport project of Sikkim, the foundation stone of which was laid by the former Vice President, late Mr Krishan Kant on 6 April 2002, is already lagging behind schedule. According to Mr Buddhi Rai, PRO, Sikkim government in Siliguri, the upcoming Gangtok airport with a proposed 1600 metre runway and a 106 X 76 metre apron would accommodate two 50-seater ATR aircrafts at a time. Sikkim has a helipad at Gangtok, wherefrom a government of India subsidised helicopter service to Bagdogra is run.