The much-awaited appearance of Chandigarh on the international aviation map was marked by a controversy over the name of the airport on Thursday.
While it is officially called Chandigarh International Airport, the Punjab government referred to it as Mohali International Airport in its advertisements and hoardings as the land as such falls in Mohali (SAS Nagar). Haryana, an equal partner in the project, took umbrage and chief minister Manohar Lal Khattar sent a terse letter to his Punjab counterpart, Parkash Singh Badal, objecting to the “misleading advertisement campaign”.
“I am deeply anguished by the advertisements... this is factually incorrect. The fact is that the nomenclature of this airport has not yet been decided by the Government of India,” he wrote, urging Badal to look into the matter and take “remedial action”.
Asked to comment, Union civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju, who was present at the Sharjah flight launch , said the Centre has received several requests to name the airport after Shaheed Bhagat Singh. “We are considering it. But it is a long process,” he said, sitting next to CM Badal and his deputy Sukhbir Singh Badal, who did not say anything. Sukhbir, who touted the airport as one of his mega projects for the state, later took the inaugural flight. Khattar was to attend the event, too, but did not.
Note, however, that Raju also said, “The people of this region should not have any problem if it is called Chandigarh International Airport.”
The Punjab government issued a press statement in the evening wherein Badal repeatedly referred to the airport as Mohali International Airport, not mentioning the word Chandigarh at all. “This international airport at Mohali, second in [Punjab] after Amritsar, was a result of persistent efforts made by the state government,” the statement read, adding that it will help in “showcasing Punjab as the most preferred investment destination”. On the other hand, Khattar, in his letter, termed the first international flight of Air India as a “welcome culmination of our persistent efforts” with the ministry of civil aviation.
Thursday’s episode has revived the bitter memories of an old dispute between the two partner states over the name of the airport. The airport is managed by a joint venture entity, Chandigarh International Airport Limited (CHIAL), in which the Airports Authority of India has the majority stake of 51%, and Punjab and Haryana are equal partners with 24.5% each.