The much-awaited modernisation programme of the Kolkata airport is set to get under way with the government on Wednesday giving the final approval for undertaking the project by the Airports Authority of India (AAI).
The project, which will be executed over the next three years, is estimated to involve a cost of Rs 1,542 crore.
The West Bengal government had made it clear that only the AAI should undertake the modernisation of the Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose International Airport in Kolkata.
"The Infrastructure Committee, headed by the Prime Minister (Manmohan Singh), today gave its formal approval to the modernisation plan of the Kolkata airport. Work will start in a few months," Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel told reporters here.
"We will move the Public Investment Board to get clearance and then start work," he said.
Patel said a decision had yet not been taken on the Chennai airport, and the Centre had given the state government a month’s time to clarify its position regarding the land allotted for expansion of the airport.
The airport in Kolkata, after the upgrade is completed in 2010, will have a new terminal, another runway and a sophisticated communication and navigation system. The airport will be able to handle 20 million passengers, more than four times the capacity now.
The CPI-M and its affiliated trade union CITU have sharply criticised the Planning Commission for suggesting that the Kolkata airport should be modernised by a newly set up subsidiary of the AAI and airports at Chennai and 35 other non-metro cities developed with private-sector participation.
Raising fears about further delay in modernisation of the Kolkata airport, CPI-M leader Sitaram Yechury wrote to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday seeking his personal intervention in the issue. He noted that the Planning Commission at a meeting held on Monday had decided to develop the Kolkata airport through an AAI subsidiary.
"One cannot understand the rationale of such a decision... Naturally, justifiable apprehensions arise whether such a decision has been taken in order to facilitate the future process of privatisation of the Kolkata airport,” Yechury said.
CITU president MK Pandhe also wrote to the prime minister on similar lines asserting that the Planning Commission should not be allowed to become another "power centre" in the country.
The government has inviteed expressions of interest for the modernisation of 35 non-metro airports. Unlike Delhi and Mumbai, where the airports were handed over to private consortiums, the government has decided to separate non-aeronautical and aeronautical aspects for the upgrade of these airports. The airports of all state capitals will be modernised in this programme.