The issue of the Bahinda civilian airport at Bhisiana near here lying non-functional even after the formation of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government at the Centre is creating an awkward situation for Shiromani Akali Dal (SAD) leaders, who are now making contradictory statements on the possibility of starting flights from this airport.
The recent statements by deputy chief minister Sukhbir Singh Badal and his wife, Bathinda MP and union minister for food processing industries Harsimrat Kaur Badal, have contradicted each other on the viability of routes on which flights from this airport should be started. However, both have agreed on the shortage of passengers from Bathinda as a reason behind the delay in starting flights.
The deputy CM, when asked about the issue on Wednesday on the occasion of laying the foundation stone of the state's first automated driving test, online licences and training centre at Naruana village near here, said that he was in touch with the union civil aviation minister and private firms and possibilities of starting flights from this airport are being explored and the financial viability of the Delhi-Bathinda-Jammu route is being assessed.
However, his statement is in contradiction to what Harsimrat Kaur Badal had said on this issue last month. She had stated that a survey had found the Bathinda-Jammu route unviable one so the possibility of the Bathinda-Bikaner (Rajasthan) route was being explored.
Meanwhile, when Sukhbir was told about Harsimrat Kaur's view on this, he said: "The Bathinda-Bikaner route is not at all viable and only the Bathinda-Jammu route seems to be financially profitable and the possibility of starting of flights on this route is being explored."
However, like Harsimrat, he also couldn't hide the concern on the lack of passengers from Bathinda and referred to the shortage of passengers for the recently-launched Bathinda-Delhi Shatabadi express saying: "People of Bathinda do not board the express and we are talking about aeroplanes. Harsimrat too had complained last month that the Shatabdai is not getting enough passengers.
Sukhbir said that the viability of starting flights of 70-seater planes on the Jammu route is being assessed and he is hopeful of flights being started from here soon. He said now efforts ar being made to make the airport operational but the previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government had not mad any efforts to start flights from here and the airport remained closed.
The SAD, during its campaign for parliamentary polls last year, had claimed to make the airport functional as soon as the NDA government took over at the Centre and had accused the Congress-led UPA government for not starting flights deliberately. The Airport Authority of India has constructed the airport at an expenditure of Rs 25 crore over 42 acres of land provided by the state government.