Agartala, Nov 24: The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has completed preliminary work to upgrade Agartala airport as an international airport to boost the region's connectivity with southeast Asia, an official said here Monday.
"The prime minister is likely to lay the foundation for upgrading the Agartala airport on Dec 1. However, his programme would be finalised in a day or two," a top official of Tripura government said.
He said: "The Tripura transport minister accompanied by top state government and AAI officials has visited the Agartala airport (20 km from here) on Sunday to supervise the proposed ceremony to be held at the airport in connection with the foundation stone laying."
The prime minister, during his four-day visit to northeast region, is scheduled to visit Assam, Manipur, Nagaland, Tripura and Arunachal Pradesh.
"AAI has taken up an ambitious Rs.427 crore project to develop Agartala airport to an international standard. Also, a modern Air Traffic Control tower is being set up at a cost of Rs.10 crore," said AAI's director S.D.Barman.
He said: "The DPR (detailed project report) for the Agartala airport project has been submitted to the civil aviation ministry for its sanction. The Tripura government has provided land for the purpose."
A west Tripura district administration official said the state government has already provided 72 acres of land to AAI for construction and expansion of the new terminal building, runway and other necessary infrastructure.
"The AAI has been asking us to provide 36 more acres of land, but there is a huge scarcity of additional land. We have relocated 157 families to acquire the 72 acres. If we acquire more land then more families would have to be evicted. This is a gigantic problem for us," the official told IANS on condition of anonymity.
He said the district administration has been working hard to find alternative land for the project.
During his recent meeting with the prime minister in New Delhi, Tripura Chief Minister Manik Sarkar told him that dependable air connectivity and development of airports are urgently required to boost connectivity between northeast India and southeast Asia.
Having better equipped airports is a pre-condition for introducing international flights to connect destinations in southeast Asia as envisaged in the "Look East Policy" of the government, an official quoted the chief minister as telling the prime minister.
Currently, Guwahati and Imphal airports are the two international airports in the mountainous northeastern region comprising eight states, including Sikkim.
The Tripura government has long been demanding operation of flights between northeastern states and adjoining Bangladesh to boost trade, tourism and people-to-people contacts.
While Guwahati airport is the main airport in northeast India, there are 11 operational airports in the region, namely Tezpur, Dibrugarh, Jorhat, Lilabari (all in Assam), Dimapur, Silchar, Agartala, Shillong, Lengpui (Aizawl) and Imphal apart from Bagdogra in the Himalayan foothills in West Bengal.
"Agartala is the second largest city in northeast region in terms of population and air-traffic after Guwahati and its volume of business and passenger movement with Bangladesh substantiate the demand of international airport," said AAI official.
At present, on an average 10 aircrafts operate every day through Agartala airport for Delhi, Kolkata, Guwahati, the southern states, Imphal (Manipur) and Silchar in southern Assam.
Besides, on an average, 150 to 200 people from neighbouring Bangladesh and northeastern states travel to and fro daily from Agartala.