The present imbroglio on the issue of an upgraded and international airport in Nagaland has brought to the fore the urgent issue that needs to be addressed so that there are no doubts left in the minds of the general public without creating any bias. This stand by NPP Nagaland has to be taken in the most optimistic and mature manner by all and sundry. Dimapur, as we all know is the corridor to not only Nagaland but also to Manipur and a major area of Karbi Anglong and Golaghat in Assam. It is the central hub of all businesses and developmental activities. But sadly enough, some of our leaders do not understand the relevance of Dimapur City as being pivotal for the growth and development of the entire state.
Subsequent governments have skirted the issue of giving due relevance to the importance of Dimapur as being the hub of all commercial activities which brings in favourable revenue to the government. The Dimapur Railway Station which is one of the oldest Railway Stations in the North East and has a status of being in the 2nd position in terms of revenue earning railway station under the NFR and in terms of Per-Capita Rail Income being undisputedly in the first place. Whereas, Dimapur is a far smaller town in comparison with Guwahati. But still the Ministry of Railways has not given the due privilege to our only Railway Station and much of it is due to a lack of effective pressure from the State Government to upgrade Dimapur to at least a Sub-Division under NFR due to which Dimapur has always been under the whims of Lumding Division or Tinsukia Division. Moreover due to our lackadaisical attitude, Dimapur Railway Station is mostly in pathetic condition and the Train Coaches are very unhygienic and not up to the standards. The State Government should demand more sophisticated and modern trains and coaches with ultra-modern facilities and proper maintenance as development of the Dimapur Railway Station has to be in due earnest and not just a cosmetic face-lift. Also there are very few trains which originate from Dimapur itself and people of Nagaland do not get proper quota of train tickets on time and during rush hours due to syndicalism in issue of ticket quotas whereby tickets are booked by agents in Bokajan and other places of Assam before passengers in Dimapur or other parts of Nagaland can get the advantage.
Now in the context of the airport issue, we would like to urge the present Government to take a matured stand by concentrating on upgrading the existing Airport at Dimapur to an International Airport as the feasibility of an Airport at the proposed site of Chiethu by the State Government is full of loopholes and utterly doubtful.
Firstly, the proposed airport project in Chiethu will mean bulldozing and clearing off the area for building the airport which will not only be time consuming but also it will mean unnecessary spending of crores of rupees. Can we afford such an exorbitant project at the present condition where the state is even mulling cutting down in the salaries of the government employees? The present Airport in Dimapur stands a far greater chance of being upgraded to an international airport with much lesser funds and resources.
Secondly, even if the proposed airport at Chiethu becomes a reality by leaps and bounds, it will not be convenient for many commuters from Nagaland itself to spend additional fares to reach Kohima and then fly in an airplane. In this regard, Dimapur not only caters to the commuters from Nagaland but also to those from nearby areas of Karbi Anglong and Upper Assam to a considerable extent. Do we expect those commuters to take an additional burden of travelling up to Kohima to fly to other destinations? Consideration has to be made also of the deplorable road conditions, land-slides and traffic jams leading upto Kohima from Dimapur. Here, the leaders have to be realistic and not biased in favor of a particular tribe, region or district for that matter.
Thirdly, considering the hilly terrain and other such ardous geographical conditions of the proposed airport site at Chiethu, it would be really difficult for international flights to land and take off from the airport especially when Kohima district faces long monsoon season and is mostly covered in a thick blanket of mist and fog. Think about the long hours of delay that will be caused due to these external factors like weather, terrain and the biggest factor being the safety of the passengers. When we again talk of Dimapur Airport, there have been little or no delay in flights till date due to adverse weather conditions as the weather of Dimapur is mostly clear and visibility is much higher as compared to any hilly area in Nagaland which makes it a more favourable and safer airport. In addition to this, international and domestic flights on bigger aeroplanes would be very difficult and almost impossible to maneuver at high altitudes, mountainous terrains and adverse weather conditions thus limiting the airport to smaller airplanes only.
Lastly, the present airport at Dimapur is well connected with the Railway Station and all nearby bus and taxi stands while also being the nearest to the National Highway-29 making it a much favoured airport. Shifting the present airport to other far-off places like Ruzhaphe and Chiethu will mean neglecting the convenience of a majority section of the people and sacrificing their comfort over the selfish aspirations of a certain section of tribe or community. This also brings us to a grim reminder of Muhammad bin Tughluq, the Mughal ruler who foolishly shifted the Mughal Capital from Delhi to Devagiri, which was a disastrous and costly decision. We should not take an erroneous and myopic decision at this juncture like Tughluq for which we might have to regret later.
At this juncture, we as matured leaders must unitedly think about development of our state irrespective of any affiliation to any tribe but for the greater benefit of the entire population of Nagaland. We are not against the construction of a separate airport in Kohima as we can understand that as the State Capital it does require an airport but at no cost should it be compromised by neglecting the upgradation of the Dimapur Airport to an International Airport. We should understand the complications, costs and risks of creating an International Airport in an unfavourable terrain like Chiethu in Kohima. We should not be so selfish as to think about development of Nagaland in terms of developing the State Capital alone. Nagaland does not comprise only of Dimapur or Kohima. Why does the government forget that there are other 10 districts to consider for development? Instead of focusing on a maiden airport in Kohima, why does the government not think about construction of state-of-the-art Helipads and introduction of smaller and durable passenger as well as cargo chopper services in all District headquarters and major Sub-Divisions which will be much more viable and bring better opportunities and provide emergency services for the people of all the districts. Moreover introduction of chopper services will be economically more viable in terms of land and infrastructure required for the helipads. The other consideration that we can collectively make is the opening of a new airport at Tizit in Mon District which has ample land as well as favourable terrain and weather conditions. This will not only develop and provide better air connectivity for the people of Eastern Nagaland, some parts of Central Nagaland and Upper Assam but also make connectivity to the remote areas of Nagaland far better and much faster.
Here, we would also like to question the State Government as to why they are turning a blind eye to the rampant and illegal land encroachments happening in most parts of Nagaland which is done right under the nose of the District Administration. Why is the government allowing vital public avenues like the Railways, Airport, Hospitals, Colleges, schools, etc. to be encroached upon illegally and rampantly thereby directly affecting the development and benefit of the general public? This becomes a very good excuse for the government not to bring about any development in the pretext of land encroachment. If the government requires more land to upgrade the existing airport in Dimapur, they should be bold enough to retrieve the encroached land at any cost or by purchasing additional plots of lands for which ample funds may be allotted by the Central Government through AAI if required. It is worth noting here that the entire developmental funds for any airport are completely sanctioned by the AAI for the development of the airport.
In light of the above, the NPP Nagaland State would like to reiterate our position on the proposed airport project of the State Government. We do not support any move by the government to shift the present airport from its present location to any other place as desired by some individuals. We request the government to take a matured stand and retrieve the encroached land belonging to AAI and the State Government so that extension of the runway can be done without any further delay. If this is not possible, we request the government to make an alternative arrangement of developing an airport near the present airport so that it is easily accessible for all commuters, from Nagaland as well as nearby Assam so that the airport revenue does not go down due to lack of passengers. Also such major issues concerning the State’s development must be thoroughly deliberated and discussed with all stakeholders including the general public.
Finally, NPP Nagaland requests all Parties, Leaders, NGOs, Naga Political Groups, Civil Societies, Students’ Unions, Tribal Bodies, Religious and Educational bodies to be united for overall development of Nagaland without any bias and let us all wake up from our traditional tribal politics and rise above personal gains for a forward and developed Naga society.
Dr. Andrew Ahoto Sema
National People’s Party (NPP)
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