Chandigarh: In what would be a great leap forward for Chandigarh and its neighbouring states, an MoU for the much talked about international airport was signed here on Friday. This would be the second international airport in the region after Raja Sansi at Amritsar and will be an extension of the existing domestic airport here.
Union civil aviation minister Praful Patel, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal, his Haryana counterpart BS Hooda were there along with Airport Authority of India (AAI) chairman K Ramalingam to oversee the small function that marked the beginning of what many said was a momentous project.
But the day, important for both Punjab and Haryana as much as the UT, saw high drama that could have actually turned the whole affair very sour, maybe even leading to the project being shelved for now.
It all happened after Hooda’s surprise insistence on being a joint partner at the eleventh hour in the venture that initially only had Punjab
and AAI as signatories. Significantly, Punjab had earlier made an offer to Haryana and Himachal Pradesh to join the project in September 2007. But neither state had showed interest following which Punjab decided to go it alone along with AAI. No official was willing to say what made Hooda change his mind now, leaving a lot of sullen faces around on the Punjab Bhawan dias where the function was held.
Eyewitnesses revealed Hooda threw a tantrum at the foundation stonelaying ceremony of the new integrated domestic terminal building at the Chandigarh airport itself and objected to Punjab using `Mohali international airport' as the name for the project. He reportedly took Patel aside and lodged his protest. He also called up prime minister Manmohan Singh in the morning, triggering hectic parleys between Delhi and Chandigarh. The PM then asked Patel to sort out the matter. Soon, politicians from Punjab, UT and their Haryana counterparts discussed the contentious issue again following which the MoU was reworked and Hooda became a partner. To substantiate their claim, Haryana cited two letters, one written on November 19, 2007, and then on December 7, laying equal claim to the upcoming airport.
`Haryana felt that Punjab was trying to lay its claim on Chandigarh by calling the new facility `Mohali international airport’,’’ an official present on the occasion said.
A belligerent Hooda was heard saying: ``We have as much right on Chandigarh as Punjab. It is the capital of both the states. How could they have unilaterally decided on such a big issue?’’
The CM’s political advisor, Varinder Singh, added, ``How can they call it Mohali airport’ by just giving 250 acres of land. We can also give land. It's more a question of legality than of building an airport.’’
Punjab politicians and officials, though, had their own take on the schism.
Haryana was offered partnership in Sept: Badal
Chandigarh: Clearly looking miffed at Haryana’s stand on the Chandigarh international airport, Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on Friday said that they had offered partnership to Haryana in September but there was no categorical response.
Punjab officials added, ``They (Haryana) did not respond to the offer then but started writing letters to AAI against the proposal in November when it became clear that the project was on for Mohali. In any case, without the land, which only Punjab can provide, there can be no international airport.’’
However, in the bargain Punjab lost the privilege to name the venture `Mohali international airport' as was advertised and tom-tommed earlier. Patel was quite clear that the airport would be known as Chandigarh international airport. `After all, Chandigarh is the joint capital of both Haryana and Punjab,'' he said diplomatically.
Now, after the joint partnership, AAI would be holding 51% stake while Punjab and Haryana would be putting in 24.5% each.