By Probal Basak
It is rare for the Trinamool Congress government in West Bengal to boast of an industrial project in public. With most major projects such as JSW Steel’s steel and power project at Salboni and NTPC’s power project at Katwa hitting roadblocks under the current regime, government officials steer clear of listing these projects at public meetings.
Perhaps, the only exception is the Bengal Aerotropolis Projects Limited (BAPL)’s airport city project at Andal in Bardhaman district, in which Singapore’s Changi Airport holds 26 per cent stake. In recent times, Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, state finance minister Amit Mitra and industries minister Partha Chatterjee have cited the example of the greenfield airport project at Andal to counter what the government terms a “media-created anti-industry image”.
Not that the Aerotropolis project hasn’t had its run-ins with the government. After coming to power, the Trinamool Congress government had unexpectedly announced another airport at Asansol (in the same district), questioning the viability and technical feasibility of the Aerotropolis project. Fortunately for BAPL, as with many other plans, the government didn’t take this forward.
“Changi officials have closely worked with us. Promoters should show adequate interest for the project, as it has been in this case,” state minister for commerce and industries Partha Chatterjee said, adding the project had seen “satisfactory progress”.
As the project is running almost a year behind schedule, “satisfactory progress” perhaps refers to the fact that work at the project site hasn’t seen any major interruption. Earlier, the first phase of the project, which includes setting up the airport and related infrastructure with an investment of Rs 600 crore, was expected to be completed by the second half of 2012.
Now, work related to key aspects such as the runway, passenger buildings and the air traffic control building is on the verge of completion. The company expects to complete the physical work by mid-February. To track the project’s progress, Changi representatives are flying in every fortnight. The government says Changi is keen to increase its stake in the project.
BAPL officials don’t seem very confident about the April deadline announced by the government. “The date when operations are started depends on the time it would take DGCA (Directorate General of Civil Aviation) to complete its inspection and the final approval process. This period may vary from project to project. Usually, it takes two to six months. All clearances required at this juncture have been obtained,” said a BAPL spokesperson.
Now, the company has to rope in airlines. After discussions with domestic airlines, Changi Airport Planners and Engineers, a subsidiary of Changi Airport International (which has been at the forefront of route planning), has zeroed in on the Delhi-Durgapur-Delhi and the Kolkata-Durgapur-Kolkata routes.
“This will be followed by route development for destinations like Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai. We are in talks with all major domestic airline operators, including Air India, Jet Airways, Indigo and GoAir. By convention, airline contracts are finalised around three months before the scheduled start of airport operations,” said a company official.
To attract airlines, BAPL chief executive Subrata Paul has pitched for tax incentives on aviation turbine fuel (ATF) from the state government. The company has formally sought concessionary sales tax of four per cent for ATF, akin to the policy followed by the Maharashtra government for non-metro airports. Officials from BAPL and the state government indicated discussions in this regard were underway.
Convincing the government of the need for additional land for the second phase of the project, however, may be more difficult. This phase would involve an information technology park, hospitals and a residential complex. It is expected this stage would require investment of Rs 10,000 crore.
BAPL has 1,818 acres for the entire project. According to the original plan, it needs another 338 acres.
Since the Trinamool government took charge, Paul has maintained the additional land was “under the process of acquisition”.
Only 30 acres have been assigned for industrial use. Companies that have been assigned land are Joy Global (mining equipment manufacturing), Ardex Endura (specialised construction material), Shri Shyam Agro Foods & Confectioners (food processing). For institutional use, two acres have been assigned to The Mission Hospital.
Partha Chatterjee said, “We have asked them (BAPL) to concentrate on the airport part first. For that, they have enough land. Let them instill some confidence in making the airport operational. The rest can be addressed later.”
BAPL seems to be obliging. “For the time being, we are developing the project on the land we have in our possession, even as we’re engaged with the state government on the land earmarked under the original plan,” said the company spokesperson.