Delhi lobby stalling air connectivity plans for Agra?

Agra, 30 June : The failure of the BJP governments at the Centre and in Uttar Pradesh to fulfil their promises of air connectivity for Agra and upgradation of the local Kheria airport are becoming a major cause of concern for the people of the district.

Connecting Agra with the country's other major airports will help boost tourism in not just the city of Taj, but also in neighbouring Mathura, Vrindavan, Aligarh and Firozabad.

Before 2014, the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders accused previous governments of ignoring Agra's demand for direct flights.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had himself assured at an election rally in November 2013 that once in power, he would take up the matter on priority.

A lot of water has flown down the Yamuna since, without any progress on the demand.

To rub salt into Agra's wounds, the international airport has been hijacked by politicians to Jewar in Bulandshahr district.

Social activist Sanjay Chaturvedi said that even as dozens of smaller centres were air connected, it was shocking that the Yogi Adityanath government in Uttar Pradesh failed to connect Agra -- the only city with three world heritage monuments -- with major Indian cities under the Udaan scheme despite a formal clearance and announcement.

"Smaller cities have regular flights, but not India's tourist destination number one," said Anil Sharma, who is spearheading a movement for an international airport in Agra for the past three years.

"Clearly, there is a collective lack of interest at the highest level of policy making.

The people's representatives have not been able to press for Agra's case convincingly.

"The international airport project has already been sabotaged... They are dragging their feet even on the construction of an enclave at the Kheria airport, citing one obstacle after another," said Sharma.

The long-delayed Rs 400 crore terminal building at the Kheria airport, now renamed Pandit Deen Dayal Upadhyaya airport, is expected to directly employ 200 people and benefit around 2,000 indirectly.

However, sources said work on the terminal was held up due to the wrong categorisation as "industry" by the Central Pollution Control Board (CPCB) ignoring the Taj Trapezium Zone Authority members' assertions that it was an "infrastructure project".

The district authorities said that they had no idea as to how soon the mandatory permissions from the Union Ministry of Environment, the CPCB and finally the Supreme Court would come.

But industrialists in Agra know who is stalling the process and why.

"The Delhi lobby of hotels and travel agents fear loss of business once Agra is air connected with major cities of India.

At present, tourists land in Delhi and then proceed to Agra by road or train. This benefits hotels and travel agents in Delhi," said Surendra Sharma, founder of the Agra Hotels and Restaurants Association.

"Only strong political will can help clear the road blocks," says activist Rajiv Saxena.

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Source: IANS