The non-functioning of the civilian airport at Bhisiana near here even after 10 months of the formation of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at Centre, of which the Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) is a constituent, seems to be becoming a thorn on the SAD's side.
Having blamed the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for the delay in starting flights from the airport, the SAD seems to be catching up with the reality, which was evident from the words of Bathinda MP and Union food processing industries minister Harsimrat Kaur Badal, who visited the Krishi Vigyan Kendra here on the occasion of kisan mela organised by Punjab Agricultural University on Friday.
When asked about the delay in starting flights from the airport, she said that private airlines were not willing to start operations from the airport due financial non-viability.
Harsimrat said that the previous UPA government has rendered the public sector airlines in a pathetic financial condition and it is not possible for them to start flights from the Bathinda airport whereas private airlines, which look for profitable avenues, haven't yet found any profitable route from here.
Having announced to assess the viability of the Bathinda-Jammu route for this purpose during her visit to the city in December last, she said that a survey conducted for this purpose hasn't found this route profitable also. She said that even concessions were offered for air travel of employees of industries in the region, but routes haven't been found suitable and now the viability of the Bathinda-Bikaner (in Rajasthan) route is being assessed.
However, she couldn't hide her frustration over the issue and expressed: "Tussin airport di gal karde ho ithe shatabadi vaste mushkil naal 200-250 savariyan hi ho rahiyan (You talk about the airport but even the Bathinda-Delhi Shatabdi express is getting only 200-250 passengers)". The biweekly train launched in December has a total of 434 seats.
Meanwhile, the hotel industry here is not very optimistic about the viability of Bathinda-Bikaner route. President of the Bathinda hotels, restaurants and resorts association Satish Arora said that the Bathinda-Jammu route was the most viable one and I don't know how these surveys are conducted.
"If the Jammu route is not viable, how can the Bathinda-Bikaner route be a viable one as so many people travel to Jammu from the region for pilgrimage and sightseeing, but there is no reason for people to travel to Bikaner," he said.
Harsimrat Kaur had claimed in December last year that Union civil aviation minister Ashok Gajapati Raju will be inaugurating the airport soon, but the same doesn't seem to be happening in the near future.
Importantly, the SAD-BJP government had been blaming the previous UPA government for delay in starting flights from this airport alleging that it was being done as the Congress did not want the state government to take political mileage out of it. The SAD, during the campaign for parliamentary polls last year, had claimed to make the airport functional as soon as the NDA government took over at the Centre. The Airports Authority of India has constructed the airport at an expenditure of `25 crore over 42 acres of land provided by the state government.
Clean chit to Tytler 'unfortunate'
Harsimrat Kaur termed the clean chit given to Congress leader Jagdish Tytler by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) by filing a closure report in the court an unfortunate one.
Blaming the previous UPA government at the Centre for the clean chit, she said that the Congress during the UPA regime had destroyed evidences against Tytler in the 1984 anti-Sikh riots that led to the CBI giving him clean chit.
She said that she would raise the matter with the central government and seek for re-investigation of the cases by a special investigation team and will urge for re-investigation of these cases.
'No controversy on AIIMS site'
Having stirred up a controversy by batting for Bathinda as the site for setting up the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) soon after union finance minister Arun Jaitley announced it for the state in the budget speech, Harsimrat said there was no any controversy and if there is any it is the creation of the media. Only chief minister Parkash Singh Badal will take decision in this regard as it is his prerogative, she added.
She said that the Union government was opening model agriculture sciences centres in states for farmers and Punjab is all set to get them. "Such centres would be of immense help for the backward areas like Bathinda and Mansa. These centres would teach Malwa farmers new techniques of farming helping them usher in much-needed diversification in the agriculture sector," she said.
She said that clusters of vegetable and fruit- producing farms would be created and, starting from Bathinda, the entire mapping of Malwa is being done to ensure proper basic facilities at places where these clusters can be created and take food processing to newer levels. Besides listening to grievances of farmers at KVK, the minister also took part in sangat darshan programmes in Bathinda villages later in the day.