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Will Bush make it to Punjab?

Read what could stop the US Prez from tucking in a delectable meal at a small village in the northern Indian state.

india Updated: Feb 16, 2006 14:33 IST
Jaideep Sarin (IANS)
Jaideep Sarin (IANS)

US President George W Bush may just be tucking in a hearty meal in a Punjab village during his India visit in March—if the length of the airstrip is found suitable enough for his Air Force One to land.

Bush has been invited to Laddowal village on the outskirts of Ludhiana for an on-site inspection of the US-based $50 million Field Fresh Foods Private Limited, set up by Bharti Telecom as a joint venture with the EL Rothschild Group.

But the visit, on the invitation of Bharti Telecom owner Sunil Bharti Mittal, seems to be hinging on the length of the Indian Air Force (IAF) airstrip at Halwara, 30 km from Ludhiana.

Highly placed sources in the Punjab government said US administration officials planning the visit had opposed the trip to Laddowal on grounds that the US presidential jet would not make a convenient landing at IAF's air force station at Halwara.

IAF officials at Halwara, however, said the air force station was equipped to handle bigger aircraft and Bush's plane was no exception.

"The rejection of Halwara air force base seems to have been made on presumptions. No physical inspection of the airport here was done before rejecting it," a senior IAF official said, speaking strictly on condition of anonymity.

After the virtual rejection of Bush's visit plans by US officials, Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh took up the matter with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and US Ambassador David C Mulford.

The Punjab government suggested that Bush could land either at the Adampur air force base near Jalandhar, or at the state capital Chandigarh and fly to Laddowal in a helicopter.

Mittal, who hails from Ludhiana, had extended his invitation to Bush to visit the company's "model farm" in Laddowal village to see the farm-to-fork project under which hundreds of tonnes of fresh vegetables and fruits would reach dining rooms in US and Europe.

Bharti has launched an international venture with EL Rothschild Group-owned ELRO Holdings India Ltd to export fresh agri products exclusively to markets in Europe and the US. Field Fresh Foods chairperson Lady Lynn had personally convinced Bush recently in Washington to visit the farm.

Bush is scheduled to make a trip to India and Pakistan in March this year.

First Published: Jan 25, 2006 17:26 IST