India wants Bangladesh land for Agartala airport expansion

Muktadir Rashid | Published: 00:02, Aug 01,2019 | Updated: 19:40, Aug 02,2019


India has proposed to expand its Agartala airport into the Bangladesh territory in Brahmanbaria for an upgrade to international standards, Bangladesh officials said.

The home minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, told New Age on Monday that the government was yet to make any decision on the issue.

India, which already has obtained transit and transshipment facilities, has made the proposal at several meetings in the past one year.

The foreign ministry held a meeting in October with other relevant ministries and intelligence agencies to examine whether or how Bangladesh could share its land with India for the expansion of Agartala Airport in Tripura which was renamed as Maharaja Bir Bikram Airport on August 7, 2018.

None of the officials disclosed the amount of land that India has sought but a defence ministry official said that the existing Agartala airport and its runway were located less than a kilometre off the border at Chanpur of Akhaura.

A defence ministry official posted to Hazrat Shahjalal International Airport in Dhaka said that aircraft from Kolkata and Guwahati needed to use the Bangladesh airspace during take-off and landing at Agartala airport.

India first made the proposal at a bilateral meeting in July 2018 when India’s the then home minister Rajnath Singh, now the defence minister, visited Bangladesh.

‘As we were approached on the issue at the meeting, we asked them to make a formal proposal,’ the civil aviation and tourism secretary, Mohibul Haque, said.

Two senior officials who attended the meeting at the foreign ministry in October 2018 said that a military official detailed security issues of the sharing of the Bangladesh territory with India.

‘We also discussed how the airport would be managed and whether the bordering land would be leased out and what might be the process if the government wanted to share the land with India,’ one official said.

Another official who attended the meeting drew a map and showed if the Agartala airport was extended, India would install lights inside the Bangladesh territory and would fence it for airport security.

The foreign secretary, Shahidul Haque, said, ‘No decision has yet been made. A number of ministries are related to the issue and the ministries are coordinating themselves on the issue.’

He said that all who attended the meeting in October 2018 received the Indian proposal positively. ‘Everyone thinks that part of our land will be well connected.’

At the meeting, he also argued that Geneva International Airport falls partly in Switzerland and partly in France, he added.

Established in 1920, the Geneva airport lies in the Swiss territory while its northern boundary runs along the border and the airport can be accessed from both Switzerland and France.

Freight operations are also accessible from both the countries, making Geneva a European Union freight hub although Switzerland is not a member of the European Union.

The airport, which is the property of the state of Geneva, is an autonomous public institution.

In 2018, more than 17 million passengers used the airport connected to 148 destinations by 57 airlines. There are a number of such airports in Europe and the US-Canada borders.

Whether allowing the land would affect national security, the foreign secretary said that people related to security issues would decide the matter. ‘I have seen it in a broader perspective and also in terms of business and mobility.’

He argued that there were cross-border airports in different countries. ‘Many countries use the same airport.’

Dhaka University international relations teacher Imtiaz Ahmed said that Europe and South Asia were not similar in terms of, among others, border management, immigration system or currency policy.

He said that there are questions as to whether the airport would be managed by both the countries or it would be a joint venture.

‘If it is a joint venture, then we can consider,’ said Imtiaz, ‘otherwise, it is not logical.’

The home minister, Asaduzzaman Khan, said, ‘We do not give land to anyone this way… No decision has yet been made.’

Former civil aviation minister Rashed Khan Menon, also the Workers Party of Bangladesh president, was surprised at the proposal. ‘How can an airport be expanded into my country? The government will face stiff resistance on the issue. This is not logical considering political, economic and aviation affairs,’ he said.

‘We should expand our airports, not other’s. Our people should not go to Kolkata via Agartala. I want to go to Kolkata from here. I want seven sister states of India to use Sylhet airport to reach other states in India,’ Menon said.

The Indo-Asian News Service reported from Agartala on June 24 that after Guwahati and Imphal, Agartala airport was set to become the third international airport in India’s north-east by 2019 or early 2020.

The report quoted Tripura’s the then transport and tourism minister Pranajit Singha Roy as saying that the Airport Authority of India planned to upgrade Agartala airport to international standards by 2019 or early 2020.

The Indian airport authorities took up a project involving Rs 438 crore (about Tk 538 crore) to upgrade Agartala airport to international standards while the Indian government has already provided the authorities with 72 acres of land for the construction of the terminal building, runway and other necessary infrastructure, the report said.

Once the project is completed, Pranajit told the news agency, flights would run between Agartala and Dhaka as well as other Bangladeshi cities such as Chattogram and Sylhet.

Tripura’s the then king Bir Bikram Kishore Manikya Bahadur built the airport in 1942 where three airliners now run on an average 14 flights on the Agartala–Kolkata, Agartala–Guwahati and Agartala–Delhi routes.

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