Flights soon from Sri Lanka’s Jaffna to 4 Indian cities but not Chennai. Here’s why
Since the end of its three-decade long civil war in 2009 and with the help of India, Sri Lanka has been upgrading the Jaffna peninsula’s Kankesanthurai harbour and the adjacent air field Palali, which played a crucial role for the Sri Lankan air force to air-drop relief supplies during the brutal conflict, when supply lines to Jaffna were often cut off by the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Come October, Palali will undergo a radical transformation and become Sri Lanka’s third international airport with connections to four Indian cities. However, and much to the chagrin of Tamils in both India and Sri Lanka, Chennai is not one of them.
Sri Lankan civil aviation minister Arjuna Ranatunga last week inaugurated a INR 2.5 billion expansion program of Palali’s facilities for which India provided Rs 300 million. Speaking on the occasion, the minister expressed the hope that opening up Palali to Indian visitors will attract investment, create employment and boost tourism in the Jaffna peninsula. He also announced that smaller commercial planes will operate flights to Bengaluru, Kochi, Mumbai and Hyderabad.
But what about historically and culturally linked Chennai? As of now and given the lack of land and sea connections, members of Sri Lanka’s largest minority community desirous of visiting Tamil Nadu have to take a circuitous, six-hour road trip to Colombo’s Bandaranaike international airport to fly there. Whether Chennai will be added when an extended runway in Palali is able to accommodate wide-bodied aircraft, remains an open question.
“Reopening Palali is welcome as we have been pressing for it, but is of little use if there are no connections to Tamil Nadu,” Northern Provincial Council education minister, Kandiah Sarveswaran said over the telephone from Jaffna. According to the minister, the omission only reinforced the impression that the Sri Lankan government was using development projects in Jaffna “as tools to further majority Sinhala hegemony.”
“Tamil expats from around the world who are headed for Jaffna could break journey in Chennai for some shopping and sightseeing and then fly to Palali,” Sarveswaran said, adding that not connecting Chennai to Palali also seemed a ploy to ‘protect the revenue of Colombo airport.” The minister also expressed surprise that the Sri Lankan central government in Colombo had taken up the project ‘towards the fag end of its tenure’. Presidential elections are due in December 2019.
(With inputs from Padma Rao Sundarji)
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